Here I defend the Mets’ decision not to make a deadline deal and the overall strength of the farm system.

The trade deadline came and went with the Mets making no moves.  Some criticized general manager Omar Minaya for not pulling the trigger on a deal but it is hard for me to find fault with not trading away prospects when the team is so far out of the playoff picture.

After July 30th, the Mets were in fourth place and 9.5 games behind the Phillies in the NL East.  In the Wild Card race the Mets were in eighth place, 6.5 games out.  Perhaps the Mets could have made up the 6.5 games on the Wild Card-leading Giants but it was highly unlikely that they would be able to leapfrog every one of the teams ahead of them in the Wild Card standings.

Allegedly, the Mets turned down a deal which would have sent four prospects to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay.  Also, the Mets were supposedly in the running for first baseman Adam LaRoche from the Red Sox for some minor leaguers, but lost out when the Braves offered Casey Kotchman.  Another rumor out there was that the Mets could have traded two pitchers for Victor Martinez.  All of these stories could be true; however, all of them could be false, too.

The Mets received some criticism that when injuries hit the major league team that there were not stars (or at least MLB-caliber players) available at Triple-A to fill in.  It certainly would have been nice if with at least one of the big injuries there had been a suitable AAAA player to fill-in at the major league level.  But it was not, in my opinion, a justified criticism of the farm system that they did not have impact players ready to step up.

That the Mets had to go outside the organization to find a replacement-level shortstop when they traded for Wilson Valdez is a black mark against the team.  Certainly, the Triple-A team, if it does not have a prospect, should have a guy who is capable of playing MLB quality defense available to call up in a pinch.

But how big of a black mark is this, really?  Jose Reyes had played 153 or more games in each of the past four seasons and the club signed Alex Cora, who had been on the DL just once in the past four years, to serve as a backup in the off-season.  The odds that both of these players would be on the DL at the same time this season had to be pretty slim.  Certainly it is a mistake I hope the club does not make in the future, but it is not one that anyone should be ranting and raving about.

Meanwhile, plenty of other people are criticizing the lack of depth in the farm system.  If the Mets had this depth, they could have pulled the trigger on a Halladay or Cliff Lee trade, the critics point out.

All things considered, the Mets farm system is in decent shape.  Remember, prior to the start of last season, it was four minor league guys that the team traded for Johan Santana.  Additionally, the farm system graduated Daniel Murphy to the majors last year.  This year, the Mets again used prospects to acquire J.J. Putz, while Bobby Parnell and Jon Niese have come up from the farm to play significant roles on the club.

Unfortunately, injuries have once again sidelined Fernando Martinez, but he was very impressive at Triple-A this season before getting the call to the Mets.  Not many people were big on Josh Thole coming into the year – although he made New York Mets Online’s Top 10 Prospects list – and this season he is hitting .349 at Double-A and has improved defensively behind the plate.

Some considered Ike Davis a bust after he failed to hit in the New York-Penn League after the Mets made him a first-round pick last year.  This season he hit well in the hi-A Florida State League and is doing even better in Double-A, where he is batting .310/.391/.549 in 142 ABs.

Brad Holt and Jenrry Mejia are two power pitchers who made the same jump this year that Davis did.  Both have mid-90s fastballs and Mejia is a teenager.  Ruben Tejada does not turn 20 until September and he is holding his own at Double-A.  The shortstop from Panama has a .348 OBP.  Tejada opened the year hitting just .222 in April but has been over .281 each of the following three months.

Overall, the Mets’ farm system is probably middle-of-the-pack in respect to other MLB clubs.  Clearly it is nowhere near as good as the Texas farm system or Tampa Bay’s.  Just as clear, it is above the likes of Detroit and Houston.

One might wonder why the Mets do not have a better farm system and many people blame Minaya for this.  But I believe there are several reasons for this.  I already mentioned the thinning of the ranks the past two seasons.  Here are the other reasons for why the Mets do not have a top minor league system:

1. Missing Top Picks Due to Free Agent Signings

Most of the impact minor league players come in the first few rounds.  With the Mets having to sign free agents, they have sacrificed several top picks.  Since Minaya came on following the 2004 season, here are the first three rounds of each of his drafts:

2005 – Mike Pelfrey, none, none

2006 – none, Kevin Mulvey (Santana trade), Joe Smith (J.J. Putz deal)

2007 – none, Eddie Kunz (supplemental), Nathan Vineyard (supplemental), Scott Moviel, Brant Rustich, Eric Niesen, Stephen Clyne

2008 – Ike Davis, Reese Havens, Brad Holt (supplemental), Javier Rodriguez, Kirk Nieuwenhuis

2009 – none, Steven Matz, Robert Shields

In three of Minaya’s five drafts, he did not have his first-round pick.  It is hard to find fault with that, with the high-quality free agents brought in, but it does make it tough on the player development side.  Certainly Pelfrey looks like a good pick and Davis will end the season as one of the top 50 prospects in the majors.

2. The Brutal 2007 Draft

Not having a first-round pick was bad enough but the Mets had two supplemental picks, two second rounders and two thirds and may very well come away empty handed.  Kunz was supposed to be a closer of the future but instead may not even make it as a 7th-inning guy.  Vineyard has undergone shoulder surgery and rumors are he retired, Moviel has been injured and unimpressive when healthy, Rustich is a 24-year old in Single-A, Niesen has a 6.91 ERA in Double-A and Clyne has a 7.31 ERA in 15 games at Double-A.

3. The Refusal to Pay “Over Slot”

MLB does not have an official slot salary for draft picks like they do in other sports.  However, the Commissioner’s Office “recommends” what clubs should pay.  Teams are under no obligation to follow these suggestions, although ones that do toe the line curry favor with Commissioner Selig.  While teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers will go over slot to sign players, the Mets generally do not.

Where this really hurts is with lower-round picks.  Often times, a player will announce that he is going to college rather than sign a professional contract.  So a first-round talent may fall significantly.  These players generally get drafted, with the team hoping to convince him to change his mind with a large signing bonus.  This would be an excellent way for the Mets to get a first or second-round talent in years that they do not have a top pick due to a free agent signing.  Instead, the Mets by-pass these signability guys, which ultimately hurts the minor league system.

*****

While the Mets go cheap in the MLB Draft, they do spend money in Latin America.  Martinez and Mejia are two prime examples, while further down in the system are players like Wilmer Flores and Jefry Marte, two teenagers playing in the South Atlantic League.

The Mets do not have a particularly deep farm system, but given the circumstances fans should have little complaint about the overall condition of the minor league system.  It has produced players for the major league team, as well as numerous chits to use in trades, and there are still players that fans should anticipate playing in New York one day.

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