By Jason Keidel
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Yes, I remember my misguided claim that the Mets would conquer Gotham this year, wrench it from the Yanks like a schoolyard bully. And in those rare, serene moments when I forget, I am ardently reminded by Yankees fans and Twitter Trolls.
So you’d think yours truly would bang the trade drum, and implore the Mets to hock the farm for some ephemeral help this season. As the trade deadline begins to shine on the horizon, everyone is throwing down on what the Mets need — mainly offense — and what parts/prospects they need to part with to get them.
But it says here that though their conga line of divine young arms will have all MLB teams drooling come July, the Mets should resist the temptation to part with any starter north of Bartolo Colon.
The Mets have the one baseball essential: pitching. So why give it up when it clearly obscures your future for the sake of a little short-term clarity?
The sports world wonders if Jon Niese should be heaved upon the trading block, sacrificed for an iron bat in the middle of an anemic lineup. No. Nein. Nyet. Negative. Maybe Niese isn’t the sexy, studly ace with his own sobriquet. He’s not the Dark Knight. They don’t cast iconic symbols into the sky whenever he takes the mound. But he’s good enough to keep around.
Sure, if a rotation is so fertile with blessed limbs that you can stretch out to a six-man rotation, then surely you can spare one golden arm that has been more bronze lately. Especially now that Steven Matz has been hailed as the second coming of Roy Hobbs.
So trade a lefty in his prime for geriatric Jimmy Rollins? Ludicrous. The more plausible baseball barter is shipping Niese for one of Chicago’s gaggle of young shortstops. According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, both the Dodgers and Cubs are taking a jeweler’s eye to Niese. And the Cubs will get a close up when they face Niese on Tuesday night in Queens.
Maybe the media and masses don’t agree on Niese in general, but all agree on one point in particular: Young, gifted pitching is the hardest thing to procure and secure. You don’t trade the one commodity you have and can’t find more of for the uncertainty of prospects or former stars deep into the back nine of their careers.
And while Niese is having a subpar season (3-7, 4.12 ERA), he’s been more than serviceable this month, with a 3.46 ERA over his last four starts. Some point to his contract as a deterrent from keeping him.
But how many high-end lefties will make Niese’s $7 million salary this season? He’s also locked in for a reasonable $9 million next year. (Compare that to another underperforming lefty in NYC, CC Sabathia, who makes well over $20 million per season.)
And it’s foolish to assume that five or six starters will stay healthy. Two of the Mets’ brightest stars, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, have already endured Tommy John at a tender age.
WFAN host Mike Francesa has begged the Knicks not to sign middle-tier talent just to reach mediocrity this year, not with the swollen salary cap coming next year and a phalanx of fine free agents on the way. So if that’s the right corporate coda for a team with no talent, the Mets need to muse profoundly over their stable of studs.
Would it be tragic if the Mets dealt Niese for one of Chicago’s shortstop triumvirate? No. The Mets would welcome whomever has the most potential between Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Starlin Castro. But it sets a perilous precedent. Once you get to spending, it could be hard to stop, particularly when GMs are speed dialing the Mets for some juicy fruit bulging from their pitching tree.
But the Mets have worked too hard to get to this perch. Most of us have regarded Sandy Alderson with a cynical eye. But the Mets are finally in decent fiscal shape. Their payroll was a meager $106 million entering the season, 19th in MLB. They have no swollen contracts hanging over their heads, no Jason Bay or Ollie Perez or other punch line haunting them. (David Wright’s condition is just bad luck, and he has been the face of the franchise too long to begrudge him his money.)
While the Yankees haven proven scrappier than some of us anticipated, they are spending over $100 million more than the Mets, and have just one more win this season to show for it. All the Mets have to do is gaze across the river to see a team that has tried to buy a title for 15 years, yet has bagged just one. Despite the billions the Bronx Bombers have spent on free agents, they haven’t been a dynasty since they won’ the old-fashioned way: from the farm up.
For the first time in a long time, the Mets aren’t a joke. Laugh at me and my myopic prediction all you want. But the Mets still have a more glittering future than the Yankees. And it starts on the mound. No need to jog out there and take the ball from one of the gifted young men who got you here.
Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonKeidel.