The problem with “winning now”

Anyone who has read this space with any consistency knows how I feel about the Mets trading away prospects this offseason, but I’ll reiterate for newcomers. (And because I just don’t have much else to say today.)

There is a time and place to trade prospects.

Fans of almost every Major League club overvalue their team’s prospects, because — mostly thanks to the Internet, I imagine — we now follow them from the moment of their signing to the time they arrive in the big leagues or leave the organization. But prospects are never sure things, and many, many of the players that appear most bound for success, either mechanically or statistically, never turn into Major Leaguers.

So yeah, sometimes a team is best served by moving one or a couple of its best young players for an established star. If a team feels it is one piece away and a star player could be had at a reasonable cost, then yeah, pull the trigger.

For the Mets, this is not one of those times.

Obviously it’s best to evaluate such deals on a case-by-case basis, as no deal could be properly assessed without knowledge of the specific players involved. But the problem with established Major Leaguers is that they usually cost big money, and the Mets are already close to their reported budget.

A trade for Roy Halladay would be exciting, for sure. It’d give the Mets an unbelievable 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.

But a trade for Roy Halladay would also be a trade for about $20 million a year for the next several years. And that gives the team a whole lot less flexibility to fill its countless other holes moving forward, including a couple in that same starting rotation.

Many will argue that the Mets are “built to win now” and so must go all-in to compete in 2010, since they will inevitably crumble after 2011 when Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes will, barring extensions, become free agents.

Guess what? That’s nonsense.

The only thing that could make the Mets a “win-now” club is committing to that philosophy. To say that the Mets must win in 2010 would be to know for certain that not a single one of their current prospects will be contributing at the Major League level by 2011.

That’s a possibility, of course. There’s always the chance that none of Ike Davis, Jon Niese, Fernando Martinez, Jenrry Mejia, Reese Havens, Brad Holt and Ruben Tejada pan out. I’m optimistic that at least a couple of them will, but then again, I’m a Mets fan. I overvalue their young players.

And with young players, there are few guarantees.

There is this one, though: For the first few years of their Major League tenure, players are always inexpensive. And with the recent trend of teams locking up young players to long-term extensions, Major League contributors can often be secured for a reasonable price beyond their arbitration years and deep into their primes.

And that, for about the millionth time, is what the Mets need. That’s what allows a team to free up cash for when the right free agents are available, and to take on payroll when a big-name player is available via trade.

Mortgaging the future for the opportunity to win in the present might work, at times, for small-market teams on the verge of losing a slew of stars to free agency. But a team with the Mets’ payroll should never have to.

A team with the Mets’ payroll should be built to win every single year, because making the playoffs — no matter how strong the club — doesn’t come anywhere close to guaranteeing a World Series victory.

The best way to do that is to make the postseason as frequently as possible, and so no team with the Mets’ means should ever build to “win now.” It is the very definition of short-sighted thinking.

12 thoughts on “The problem with “winning now”

  1. Trying to win ‘now’ is also basically telling Beltran and Reyes that this team will suck after a couple of years, reinforcing the idea that they should leave in free agency, not look to sign an extension.

    If instead, Beltran sees Fernando Martinez blossom and think that’s a fun guy to play next to, and Reyes gets excited about turning double plays with Tejada, maybe they think instead “The Mets will be a perennial winner going forward” and sign an extension and stick around.

  2. Just to play devil’s advocate, given the way recent Mets prospects have developed, isn’t there an argument to be made that trading them before they reach the majors is actually maximizing their value? I don’t see Deolis Guerra becoming an innings-eating groundball machine any time soon.

  3. Usually, we don’t agree; today, we agree completely. Hold on to the prospects and forget Roy Halladay. Forget John Lackey too, while you’re at it. Wait and see if Brandon Webb/Cliff Lee/Josh Beckett, etc., etc., reach free agency first.

  4. Right on cue Cerrone throws up a post about trading Fernando Martinez. And bases his post on the useless thoughts of some blogger (no offense to bloggers, or if you know the particular blogger in question), but the type of thinking expressed there is just stupid IMO. The old “what are the odds of prospects ever panning out’ rationale is just so ridiculous.

    What if Steve Phillips had used that theory and traded David Wright or JOse Reyes in 2002? Where would the Mets be then? I understand that many do not pan out, most actually do not pan out, but they are assets to the team, that provide depth, and flexibilty to make future moves, even if they do not become stars. If the Mets traded F-mart, Ruben Tejada, and Brad Holt for Curtin Granderson, I think I’d shoot myself in the face.

  5. I think so many Met fans are in a win now mentality is because thats what the front office seems to be saying. We get the impression that the Mets are just one or two pieces away from contending for a WS. But this is why the Mets never have a long bout of success. I’m willing to bet that Met fans would take a few more playoff-less seasons if the front office comes out with a clear-cut plan on how we’re going to upgrade this team for the long-haul. The only way I’m going to stay a Met fan is if they A) make a deep post season run next year, or B) come out with a long-term plan and act prudently. No more signing one free agent and hope for the best with a garbage rotation/bullpen.

    • Probably, and for precisely the reasons Sam states there. Granderson doesn’t strike me as a win-now pickup, since he’s locked down at a reasonable price through his prime.

  6. The Mets right now can’t afford to do that thing where they give away a boatload of prospects for a market rate guy, even if it’s Roy Halladay.

    The problem is the Mets have too many holes to fill, and the only way to fill them within budget over the next few seasons is to have some of these young guys work out and deliver value.

    Now, another way to get value though is to acquire guys who you can get for below market. So if you are acquiring Curtis Granderson, or Dan Uggla, that’s not constraining your payroll and might well be a good use of talent. For a market rate guy, like Aaron Harang, you might give up less (maybe a B guy like Familia or Tejada).

    If you look at a team like the Braves, they are dealing prospects all the time. But they keep enough guys as well. Still, they weren’t afraid to part with Tyler Flowers, Brent Lillibridge, and a couple of other guys last year in order to pay Vazquez $12M.

    You can deal one or two of these guys to fill a need, but with 5 or 6 needs, and a constrained payroll, I don’t see any big superstar packages right now.

    The Mets should be looking first to free agency: Russ Branyan, Nick Johnson, even the Chone Figgins idea is really starting to grow on me.

  7. Ted, You have hit it out of the Park. The day the Mets adopt a “compete for a world series championship every year” approach is when we will finally have a first class TEAM on the field. This approach will take maturity and thick skin so if it ever happens lets make sure to support the effort. Great article, Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s