Brodie Van Wagenen’s Mets predecessors set bar high for homegrown talent

Brodie Van Wagenen’s Mets predecessors set bar high for homegrown talent

March 24, 2020

A record for players used in Major League Baseball has been set every year since 2013, up to 1,410 in 2019. Where did they all come from? The Post put all 1,410 back on their original teams and in a three-part series we are examining which organizations have done the best at bringing talent into their pipeline — and just how much it matters. Today’s Part 2: The Mets.

The Mets won 86 games last year in Brodie Van Wagenen’s first season as general manager. They were and are contenders because of the work of his two predecessors, Omar Minaya and Sandy Alderson, who both fared better in accumulating homegrown talent than the perception during their terms.

Alderson’s Mets went to the World Series in 2015 mainly behind players brought into the system during Minaya’s reign — think Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Daniel Murphy. And the Mets finished with the sixth-most wins last year with lingering pieces from Minaya (now an assistant to Van Wagenen) such as deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Juan Lagares and Steven Matz plus key homegrowns from the Alderson era such as Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil.

The final first-round pick of the Alderson administration in 2018 was Jarred Kelenic, the key asset shipped to Seattle for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. Kelenic did not play in the majors last year, but 48 Mets original signs — players whose first pro contract was with the organization — did. That ranked 11th in the majors and was down from 54 in 2018 (tied for fifth most) and 62 in 2017 (the MLB high). The reduction was about original Mets who vanished from the game, such as Dillon Gee and Mike Pelfrey after the 2017 season or Jose Reyes and David Wright after 2018.

What do those 48 original-sign Mets tell us about where they did well in bringing in amateur talent? They had 16 players who participated in the majors last year who were their international signs — tied for fifth most. All were from Latin America and all but Rafael Montero and Amed Rosario came from when Minaya was then-GM Steve Phillips’ top lieutenant in the late 1990s and early 2000s or when Minaya was the GM from 2005-10.

With Fernando Rodney unsigned as of MLB suspending play due to the coronavirus pandemic and with CC Sabathia retired, Nelson Cruz inked in 1998 by the Mets is the player signed the longest ago still active. In a quirk, six international players signed during Minaya’s Mets GM tenure who did not play in 2018 returned in 2019: Montero, Deolis Guerra, Cesar Puello, Ruben Tejada, Wilfredo Tovar and Gabrial Ynoa. By the way, did folks notice that Montero (of the Rangers) and Hansel Robles (of the Angels) had a combined 2.45 ERA in 93 games last year (71 by Robles with 23 saves) and a .217 batting average against? And in case you forgot Yusmeiro Petit and Jose Quintana were signed as amateurs by the Mets while Minaya was either an assistant GM or GM.

There were still 10 players drafted by the Mets from 2005-10 under Minaya playing in the majors as of last season, including deGrom, Matz, Collin McHugh, Daniel Murphy and Joe Smith. It also included Harvey and Lucas Duda, who had not signed as of the MLB shutdown.

Alderson was hamstrung financially as the Mets worked through the impact of the Madoff ramifications on the Wilpons. So the organization did not play internationally for big-time free agents in Alderson’s tenure such as Jose Abreu, Yu Darvish, Yoan Moncada and Masahiro Tanaka. And in general they were among the teams who produced the fewest prospects from Latin America during the Alderson years, though three of their best prospects — catcher Francisco Alvarez and infielders Ronny Mauricio and Andres Gimenez — were signed out of Latin America while Alderson reigned.

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During the Alderson years the Mets did not have volume in bringing in position players. But there was impact. Just six teams had at least three original-sign players reach at least 3.0 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs version) for them: The Astros had five, the Red Sox four (make your joke that those are the two teams that were investigated by MLB for illegal sign stealing) and the Mets, Twins, Braves and Dodgers were the others (a 3.0-4.0 WAR represents an above-average player, higher than 4.0 you start heading toward All-Stars, then elite/MVP).

That Mets trio was Pete Alonso (4.8), Jeff McNeil (4.6) and Michael Conforto (3.8). That threesome earned just under $5.4 million combined last year.

There were just eight teams that had four homegrown original signs attain at least 2.0 WAR (2.0-3.0 WAR is a solid starter) for them. The Mets were one with Amed Rosario (2.7 WAR) added. Rosario made just $575,000 last year. Thus, half the Mets’ regular positional lineup were retained homegrown difference-makers who cost in total less than $6 million. Throw in that two other Alderson draft picks, Brandon Nimmo and Dom Smith, teamed for 459 plate appearances, an .829 OPS and 2.1 WAR for a shade under $1.2 million.

That is roughly $7.2 million now. Want to add another Alderson pick, Seth Lugo, who was one of the majors’ best relievers (2.1 WAR) for $591,875? And how about two draft picks from the Minaya regime in Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom (7.0 WAR) and Steven Matz (1.7 WAR) for a combined $12.125 million.

That is nine average or way better than players inherited by Van Wagenen at less than $20 million. For a team that had about a $140 million payroll (albeit a lot spent on the non-playing Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright) that should have provided an advantageous cornerstone for Van Wagenen to assemble a playoff roster. Plus, Alderson draft picks Kelenic, Justin Dunn, Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson were the main attractions to land Cano, Diaz and Marcus Stroman.

Will one day we look back and say that Van Wagenen left as much behind as Minaya did for Alderson and both of them did for Van Wagenen?

Teams that had at least three of their original signs reach 3.0 WAR or more last year for them (Fangraphs version of WAR):

1. Astros, five players: Alex Bregman (8.5), George Springer (6.5), Jose Altuve (3.5), Yuli Gurriel/Carlos Correa (3.2.)

2. Red Sox, five players: Xander Bogaerts (6.8), Mookie Betts (6.6), Rafael Devers (5.9), Christian Vazquez (3.5).

T3. Mets, three players: Pete Alonso (4.8), Jeff McNeil (4.6), Michael Conforto (3.8).

T3. Twins, three players: Max Kepler (4.4), Jorge Polanco (4.0). Mitch Garver (3.9).

T3. Braves, three players: Ronald Acuna (5.6), Ozzie Albies (4.6), Freddie Freeman (4.0).

T3. Dodgers, three players: Cody Bellinger (7.8). Corey Seager (3.3), Joc Pederson (3.0).

Best team that could be made of original-sign Mets who played in the majors in 2019 based mainly off last year’s stats (because players move around so much and there are so many more to choose from in this exercise, we are giving the Mets a DH):

C-Kevin Plawecki. 1B-Pete Alonso. 2B-Wilmer Flores. SS-Amed Rosario. 3B-Jeff McNeil. LF-Dom Smith. CF-Brandon Nimmo. RF-Michael Conforto. DH-Nelson Cruz

Bench: Tomas Nido, Daniel Murphy, Juan Lagares, Luis Guillorme

Rotation: Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Jose Quintana, Anthony Kay, Collin McHugh

Closer: Hansel Robles

Bullpen: Seth Lugo, John Gant, Yusmeiro Petit, Joe Smith, Jesus Montero, Adam Kolarek

Extras: Tyler Bashlor, Matt Bowman, Chasen Bradford, Drew Butera, Juan Centeno, Luis Cessa, Lucas Duda, Justin Dunn, Jeurys Familia, Chris Flexen, Carlos Gomez, Robert Gsellman, Deolis Guerra, Matt Harvey, Matt Koch, Corey Oswalt, Tim Peterson, Cesar Puello, Paul Sewald, Ruben Tejada, Wilfredo Tovar, Brad Wieck, Gabriel Ynoa

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