“We still have inventory,” Sandy Alderson said after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Phillies. I’m not sure any reporters really wanted to talk to Alderson about another lousy game in a disappointing year. No, reporters were talking to Alderson about the Mets trading away Neil Walker to Milwaukee for a player to be named later. The individual wins and losses don’t matter as much as the team’s broad plan for the future.
The Mets could easily make more deals. Asdrubal Cabrera isn’t hitting as well this year, but he’s still on pace to be more than a two win player. Curtis Granderson’s on base percentage has recovered enough after his awful start, so a few contenders may look at him as a fourth outfielder. There are enough potential contenders in the AL Wild Card and NL Central that a team may be willing to give up a little something to get one of these Mets. We don’t know who the Brewers gave up to get Walker, but the second baseman has been less valuable than either Cabrera or Granderson so far this season. I know, that’s surprising. It’s mainly an indictment of Walker’s health.
Once teams clear “inventory,” they tend to play their younger players. It’s important to emphasize the word tend in that sentence, because we’re talking about the Mets under Terry Collins. First baseman Dominic Smith has started two games for the Mets, and he’s been pulled both times. On Saturday, Smith came up as the tying run with one out in the top of the ninth inning. Lefty sidearmer Hoby Milner was in for the Phillies. Smith’s best tool is his ability to hit for contact. Why not give him a chance against a lefty specialist? After all, don’t the Mets want to eventually rely on Smith every day? Collins clearly wasn’t interested in this long term planning and he instead went to Wilmer Flores. Philly countered with right-hander Luis Garcia for two easy outs to end the game.
I cant help but compare Collins’ managing to the Phillies game plan. Rookie callup Rhys Hoskins is batting cleanup. It doesn’t matter that the Sacramento State alum was never tabbed as a top prospect or that he’s still hitless. Philadelphia manager Pete Mackanin is acting like Hoskins is the best prospect of the ones who have been called up so far, so he’s going to keep getting his at-bats, even though they are playing him out of position. It may not be the best strategy to win games, but that’s not the point. The Phillies know they aren’t making the playoffs. They accept that losing and getting a better draft slot is in their long-term interest. They also know the more they play Hoskins now, the more they can figure out how much he belongs in their long term plans.
What is the Mets’ overall plan? Clearly the team isn’t building for the short term. They have made four trades and Alderson is still openly talking about how he has inventory left. None of the Mets’ trades have been particularly forward thinking. The team didn’t get exciting prospects back for Lucas Duda, Jay Bruce, or Addison Reed. They did, however, get a short-term reduction in payroll. Collins manages for short-term wins, even if it impedes player development.
When teams are bad, one of the biggest things that fans want to see is a coherent plan for how to get better. Plans don’t always work. We know that. We also know plans are more likely to work when everyone, from ownership on down, is on the same page. The Mets act like they don’t know whether they are coming or going. It’s hard not to wonder about ownership. Have the Wilpons given Alderson and Collins instructions about the direction of the team? Does Collins think he has to squeeze every win out of a lost season to keep his job? Would the Wilpons actually reward this kind of short-term strategy?
Sadly, anyone who has followed this team long enough knows the answer to that question. I’m probably more excited about the Walker deal than any other Mets trade because the club officially announced they were sending some cash as part of the deal. Maybe there’s a bit of long-term planning and hope here after all? After a day like yesterday, I’m all for squinting as much as possible to see a glass that could be half full when I think about baseball.
Photo credit: Derik Hamilton – USA Today Sports