Hardly a shining example of starting pitching depth, are the financially-hamstrung New York Mets overly focused on delaying Zack Wheeler’s eligibility for free agency? While Newsday’s David Lennon would like to give the Amazins the benefit of the doubt regarding the RHP (“Sandy Alderson has a staff to help him make that call, and given how important Wheeler is to the Mets’ future, it makes no sense to gamble with him as long as a call-up is not in his best interests”), he’s also quick to stress, “if a pitcher of his caliber can be a difference-maker now and help the Mets win immediately and give the impression that Sandy Alderson is not mailing it in this season, there is a compelling argument to start him in Flushing.” Particularly with Johan Santana lost for the season and the newly acquired Shawn Marcum questionable for his 2nd turn in the rotation.
The part of the conversation where the lines get blurry is the matter of service time and preserving an extra year of Wheeler’s free agency. The financial benefit to that is obvious. Keeping control of a player is crucial to building a winning organization, and for the Mets, a team with its share of recent money problems, that’s doubly true.
Even so, deliberately leaving a player in Triple-A, if only for a month or two, just for the sole purpose of delaying his free agency or eligibility for arbitration is not a smart practice.
But for any team to purposely hurt its chances to win right away — from the first week of the regular season — because of what it might cost them a few seasons later sends a mixed message to everyone, including the fans supposedly paying to watch what they believe is the most competitive product that can be put on the field.
Lennon’s careful to work both sides of the issue, and while I’d usually support any assertion the Mets are duplicitous towards the paying customer, I’m not sure anyone over the age of seven actually believes Alderson’s primary goal this season is winning baseball games. Lennon alludes to Dwight Gooden, but even in the wildest best-case scenario, Wheeler’s not joining a team with Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez (sorry, David Wright). Alderson and his bosses are ultimately don’t give a shit about the difference between 65 and 75 wins this season, and perhaps they shouldn’t.