Does the Vegas deal change Alderson’s and DePodesto’s strategy in regards to Wheeler?
In theory I agree with you that it doesn’t matter that Vegas is a hitters park, but doesn’t it say something that both the Dodgers and Blue Jays kept their top pitching prospects out of there.
Even though I might actually go to a game in Vegas, I think it stinks for the Mets. In fact in some ways it’s worse than New Orleans. I don’t understand why the Mets don’t get an East Coast AAA team. The Wilpons need to find a way to make this happen. I have read all your columns, but at the end of the day do you really believe that it’s good for the Mets to be in Vegas (and by the way, I don’t think it was that great for the Mets to be in Buffalo.)
Ben’s question first.
No, the Mets’ AAA team moving to Las Vegas should have no effect on the team’s strategy in regards to Wheeler. Remember that the team has all but promised that Wheeler will start 2013 in AAA.
First of all, there does not appear to be a whole lot of room in the starting rotation to start 2013. The Mets should have the following pitchers penciled into the 2013 rotation: Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey (as long as his option is picked up and of course it will be), and Dillon Gee (as long as he’s healthy). Mike Pelfrey is arbitration eligible, Jenrry Mejia has another chance to impress the brass this year. Starting Wheeler in AAA for a month and a half would avoid potential super-two arbitration status after his second big league season, and potentially save the Mets $10 million or more over the course of his arbitration cases.
Second, there is Wheeler’s big league readiness. Yes, he is the Mets’ best prospect, and one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. His fastball is electric. Both his slider and his curveball have plus potential. However, his command is not major league ready yet. He is the precise kind of prospect who needs AAA. He succeeded in AA (3.26 ERA) despite a walk rate of 9.1% (NL average is 8.1%) because AA hitters could not lay off his stuff out of the zone, nor do damage against him when he was in the strike zone. In AAA, these command issues manifested themselves with a walk rate that climbed to 12% and two homers allowed in six starts, compared to two homers allowed in 19 AA starts. His command might never be great, but it is the primary thing standing between Wheeler and not just big league success, but big league excellence right now.
Peter’s question second. No, I don’t think it’s good for the Mets to be in Vegas. It will be a logistical headache. Moving players from the mountain time zone or the west coast to the east coast where the Mets play the majority of their games will be a real pain in the ass. Moving players from AA to AAA will also be a pain. It will be difficult to move players from AA to AAA to make spot starts as the Mets were able to do with Buffalo and Binghamton a drive apart. It will be a lot of extra travel for the Mets’ player development staff.
As far as moving their AAA back into the Eastern Time Zone, sure, the Mets would prefer to be in the International League, but they need a partner. That helps explain why the Mets only signed a two year PDC with the 51s. There will be more options after the 2014 season, when AAA teams in Charlotte (Chicago – AL), Durham (TB), Indianapolis (Pit), Louisville (Cin), Norfolk (Bal), Rochester (Min) and Syracuse (Was) all have expiring PDCs. Now, to be clear, there are some very strong relationships in that list, including Durham and Indianapolis and teams that presumably would not be interested in the Mets like Norfolk.
Buying a AAA franchise outright costs in the range of $22-25 million dollars, a number the Mets seem unlikely to spend to secure an International League affiliate. The Mets could take a minority stake in one of the International League teams, but none, to my knowledge, are itching to sell at the moment.