Thank you kindly for landing on a Cincinnati Reds blogblurb about a pending World Series that, you'll find, will not feature the Cincinnati Reds. Rather, the New York Mets will take on the Kansas City Royals beginning Tuesday, and while that's little consolation for the 2015 Cincinnati season, there's ample about both squads that may provide hope for Reds fans that are busy trying to fathom how a reboot may contain any enjoyment whatsoever.
Today, we'll take a look at the Mets, a team that's been molded by Walt Jocketty's former boss Sandy Alderson from a team that finished 14 games under the .500 mark in 2013 into the pitching dynamo it is today. Just how in the hell does their success give Reds fans any reason to be optimistic about their club?
For one, they're the New York Mets, not the New York Yankees, meaning that it's not the same ol' big bad team from the big market that's competing to take home the World Series trophy this year. Instead, it's the Mets, who haven't claimed a title since before Chris Sabo's rec-specs were the coolest thing not named pet rock.
A closer look at the nature of the Mets success is also something that could give hope to a Reds roster that's seen some 80% turnover since the 2012 glory days.
New York has an aging corner infielder under contract for seemingly forever who is due more than a hundred million bucks, one that was on a sure-fire Hall of Fame path before injuries began to derail his career as he inched into his 30's two years ago. And - shocker! - despite his escalating salary, the Mets have used prudence and solid talent evaluation to make sure David Wright earning $20 million a year won't sink the franchise budget. Sound familiar? In the modern baseball world (meaning the one where 22 of the 30 teams had a payroll of at least $100 million in 2015), one big contract shouldn't be enough to handcuff a team regardless of how poorly (or injured) that player performs, and the way the Mets have navigated Wright's deal and still found success should be ammo against any argument that the Reds cannot compete while Joey Votto is making tens of millions on their payroll.
The Mets have found their skyrocketing success through their young, cheap pitching instead of through splashing money on multiple flashy hitters, and the way they've done so should also reflect well on the Reds' recent decision making. Each of Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Jacob deGrom are products of Mets drafts since 2009, and Noah Syndergaard was the prize return when the Mets opted to trade their Cy Young caliber ace at his peak instead paying him well into his late 30's. The Reds have placed a rather high emphasis on young power arms, too, both via the draft and in their recent trading-away of established veterans, and it's clear that the core of the next resurgent Reds team will be found in their arms, not their bats. (And before you cry foul that the Mets' staff is composed of more highly regarded prospects than those currently found in the Cincinnati system, it's worth noting that neither Matz nor deGrom ever cracked a Top 100 list from MLB.com, Baseball America, or Baseball Prospectus, and the highest ranking Harvey ever logged was #25 on BP's 2012 Top 100 list.)
Emphasis on solid defense up the middle and elite young pitching has the Mets on the brink of their first world championship since 1986, and Reds fans should also take notice that it's coming in a season where the Mets had the game's de facto World Series favorite sitting right in their own division. The Washington Nationals were nearly everyone's presumptive pick to take the title before the season, their roster and strengths so predictably obvious that them winning their division was an effective foregone conclusion. Things sure didn't work out that way, however, and that too should give Cincinnati fans a glimmer of hope given how predictably strong the NL Central will be on paper in the coming years.
The only thing that had the Mets in the news prior to the start of the 2015 season was that a team that had finished under .500 in 2014 had really just made one move of note during the winter, and that move was forfeiting a draft pick to sign Michael Cuddyer. Bringing in a broken down 36 year old on a 2 year, $21 million guaranteed contract was a move eerily reminiscent of when Jocketty acquired Scott Rolen, a transaction meant more for dugout and work ethic impact than production on the field. It's also the exact kind of move I'll continue to expect Jocketty to pursue in the future - one that he's mentioned may be in the cards for this coming season - because he and Alderson continue run operations in very similar ways.
So, there's hope for the Reds when you look at the Mets. They have no Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, no $200 million free agent pitcher like Max Scherzer, and no sought after guru manager like Joe Maddon. They had just the 21st highest payroll in the league - well below the Reds - and have found ways to pay the players they want to play for them without overextending themselves into the far-off future. They compiled arms to use on their mound as well as arms to use when in need of a major trade to get them over the hump, and the Reds have put together that kind of depth as well. That path to success isn't easy to see coming, and it certainly isn't easy to develop overnight, but it's exactly the kind that can take a team from 79 wins and an early off-season to the brink of a team's first World Series title in nearly 30 years.
What I'm saying, of course, is that all the Reds need this winter is Bartolo Colon. He's going to be a free agent after all, Walt.