Opinion: Importance of Farm Systems

Recently a lot has been made of the Yankees enormous spending this dollar-signoff-season, dishing out millions upon millions of dollars to A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia, and most recently their $180 million dollar investment in first basemen Mark Teixeira. The prominent question has been: Is this good for baseball?

The responses you’ll garner on that is wide-spread, but it seems to me that the better question is this: Is this theory and way of doing business good for an organization? To me… absolutely not.

The path to building a perennial championship contender must be done through the farm system. The Yankees exemplified this in their run of dominance in the mid-90’s and have since forgotten about it (See Posada, Jeter, Rivera, Bernie Williams, Pettitte). The Yankees have struggled to develop players that can provide solid production on the ML level over the last several years.

The Mets are not going to go out and dish out this kind of cash on free agents, or at least to this extreme, but they continue to place heavy emphasis on developing their own. The popular opinion is the Mets system is middle of the road, but Omar Minaya has placed a concentrated effort on improving it and not abdonining it.

We watched David Wright and Jose Reyes grow up within the organization’s lower levels and flourish on New York’s grandest stage. Fans undoubtedly have a special connect with such homegrown talent. Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy, Mike Pelfrey, and Joe Smith also made large contributions in 2008.

The Florida Marlins (Beckett, Willis, Cabrera), Boston Red Sox (Pedroia, Youkilis, Lester), Tampa Bay Rays (too many to name), Colorado Rockies (Francis, Tulowitzki, Holliday, Hawpe) and Detroit Tigers (Verlander, Zumaya, Granderson) have all relied on their farm system to reach the World Series over the last several seasons. Also [sigh] Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and the Phillies.

Another advantage of building and promoting talent within is the financial benefits and the amount it saves the organization. Omar Minaya and the Mets have done a very good job over the last several seasons of blending their own talent with free agents and acquisitions through trades.

Whether or not you believe the Yankees spending spree this off-season is good for baseball, the better question whether it’s actually a smart way of building a championship team. Based upon what we have seen recently, the answer seems to be no.

There are 17 comments

  1. mrmustseetv

    Christopher,

    I totally agree with your assessment, that said I wouldn’t be so quick to put praise on Omar and his staff just yet:

    1) David Wright and Jose Reyes were drafted/signed and mostly developed under the Steve Phillips regime. Other than Mike Pelfrey (and the jury is still out on him until he proves it again this year), Omar and his staff have not drafted/signed and developed one single impact player. Considering that Omar has been at the helm of this organization for 4 years, you could make the argument that it’s par for the course since it usually takes about 4 years for a prospect to be developed.

    Still, if you look at the farm system, is there anyone that you can see is a potential impact player that will make the major league club in the next year? Fernando Martinez? He’s still raw. Jon Niese? Not a blue chip talent. Daniel Murphy? Is the really a Wade Boggs-type? No.

    2) What “concentrated effort” has Omar and the Mets really done to improve the farm system?

    The Mets don’t spend nearly enough on their farm sytem as others. It’d be one thing for the Mets and Wilpons to say that they weren’t in the business of giving out $200M contracts, but instead thought it was a better investment to spend that money and invest in the farm system but they don’t.

    The Mets adhere to that dumb slot system that no one else other than then and other others too cheap to spend real money in the draft use as an excuse to hold on to the fat green they make off of charging fans $5 for hot dogs and $10 for beers.

    The Mets never go above slot because they want to save money. They could have drafted Tim Melville this year in the 3rd round, but didn’t. I could list the name of top talent that they failed to nut up on and draft for fear they’d have to go above slot.

    I mean they got outspent by the Pirates this year! The Pirates!

    3. “But the Mets spend in the international market.”

    Really? Not this year. Or even last year. That bogus reputation was build off of their unexpected signing of F-Mart and Deolis Guerra 4 years ago when the Mets had no choice but to spend money in order to make a statement.

    They didn’t sign any of the higher priced talent nor did they invest it in other areas on the international scene.

    4. Who has Omar and company reall developed?

    Omar may say, “Our farm system is good. Look at the prospects we traded for Putz and Santana” BUT that’s B.S. too.

    50% of the Santana package (Humber and Gomez) were signed or drafted by Phillips or Jim Duquette, so half the credit of that package goes to them. Omar can’t take all the credit.

    The players traded for Delgado and Lo Duca were not drafted or signed by Omar.

    Omar and his staff have done an okay job of beginning to develop okay complimentary players (Murphy, Evans, Joe Smith, Niese) but are those guys blue chippers? NO!

    If Martinez develops into an above-average player and Niese develops into a #3 then we can start putting all this praise on Omar, but until I see some decent players coming out of the farm and by that I mean people that are above-average starters or stars, then all Omar is developing is nice curtains but no real foundation.

    1. big baby

      I really could not disagree with this post anymore.

      1.) Just because they haven’t successfully drafted any players the caliber of Wright or Reyes, which as we know, is incredibly easy to do, especially when you routinely lose your first round picks to free agent compensation, doesn’t mean that they haven’t been trying to build up the farm and get a pipeline going to the major leagues. Writing off Fernando is quite convenient, and ignoring the fact that Omar landed JOHAN SANTANA (and Putz) using the farm is disingenuous.

      2.) Yes, the Mets don’t go “overslot.” Which is a phenomenally annoying buzzword. Not really Omar’s fault. I’m sure he’d love to spend a ton of money on the draft. Despite that, look at some of the late round signings he’s had lately, namely Gee and Murphy. It’s really easy to read BA and start clamoring to “spend” on guys. Remember Pedro Beato? And everyone flipping out because the Mets didn’t go OVERSLOTTTTT on him? He’s been horrendous.

      3.) Critiquing Omar in Latin America is RIDICULOUS. I mean really. You’re going to critique what the Mets have done in LA? Wow. Talk about hubris. That’s quite the bold step you’re taking. To completely ignore all of the massive success they’ve had there is one thing. But acting as if $$$$ = effort is ridiculous. These are 16 year old kids who are leveraged by buscones? is that the term? I’m pretty sure the Mets know what they’re doing in Latin America.

  2. GravediggerHebner

    I think the responsibility of an organization is to produce major league players, or at least commodities that are tradeable for other major league players.

    Recently the Met organization has traded 7 players to Seattle/Cleveland and 4 to Minnesota for major league players, so regardless of “regime” I think it’s reasonable to suggest that the Met organization produces tradeable commodities.

    But do they produce major league players? I honestly don’t know. I have a theory, potentially a terribly flawed one, that given 30 organizations all with 25 man major league rosters (or 750 total major league players), each organization should have produced 25 of those 750 players to be considered ‘average’ at producing players.

    I have neither the time nor the wherewithal to scour the 25 man rosters of all 30 teams and to determine the first organization of all of those players, but a cursory look around the majors, off the top of my head, does not reveal anything close to 25 players who began in the Met system.

    I can name David Wright, Jose Reyes, Daniel Murphy and Mike Pelfrey as likely members of the Met 25 man roster who came from their system. Joe Smith in Cleveland, Aaron Heilman in Seattle and Scott Kazmir in Tampa Bay are others that quickly come to mind. Ty Wigginton, Octavio Dotel and Guillermo Mota exhaust my knowledge of “Met products.” That’s only 10 major league players that began their careers in the Met system. Even if I’m failing to remember 14 other players, that still puts the Mets below average in my theory.

    Is this just a pointless exercise? Am I just failing to remember a boat load of Met products that render my theory invalid? Or does this illustrate my hypothesis, that the Mets organization is below average at producing major league players?

    1. ravin108

      I don’t think Mota is a Mets prospect. He was with the Dodgers before the Mets.

      I can add: Jason Tyner, Melvin Mora, Heath Bell, Matt Lindstrom, Mike Jacobs, Lastings Milledge, Yusmiero Petit, Anderson Hernandez, Brian Bannister, Carlos Gomez.

      I’m a younger mets fan so its hard for me to name veterans who may have been Mets but for the Omar Minaya regime, I think the Mets are on target.

      1. GravediggerHebner

        Regarding Mota (and all the names I listed), I simply looked at these players’ baseball-reference pages, on which the organization they began their careers with is listed. On Mota’s page it says: “Signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1990,” so that’s why I included him.

        As soon as I submitted my comment Carlos Gomez and Brian Bannister came to mind, and I knew there would be even more.

        This is an idea that I truly hope I’m wrong about. Given yours and mezz sec 7’s help, we’re closer to finding that I’m incorrect. Thank you both.

      2. GravediggerHebner

        Mora started in the Astros’ organization and Hernandez in the Tigers’, but the rest nice calls. So we’re up to 18 so far. With mezz sec 7’s adds of Huber and Burnett that’s 20. Still below what I consider average, but I’m hoping more names will be uncovered.

    2. mezz sec 7

      some of these are reaches, but all were drafted by the mets, or were met farmhands

      1B mike jaccobs
      2B jeff keppenger or macus scutero
      SS jose reyes
      3B david wright
      OF jason bay
      OF grady siezmore
      OF ty wiggington
      C justin huber (plays first, but was a catcher)

      pitchers of note:
      kasmir
      bell
      lindstrom
      smith
      heilman
      pelfrey
      aj burnett

      not a bad team, eh, you have to give the mets system SOME credit…

      1. GravediggerHebner

        Thanks for taking the time and adding your thoughts. My goal is to determine major league players who got their start (pro debut?) in the Mets organization. With that in mind, other than the names I’d already listed only Huber and Burnett qualify.

        Keppinger started out with the Pirates organization, Scutaro the Indians, and Bay & Sizemore the Expos.

        But with Huber and Burnett, plus ravin108’s names, we’re up to 20. I never would have remembered Huber, nice call!

      2. NateW

        Yusmeiro Petit would fit into this squad as a 5th starter or long man. He’s a marginal big leaguer, but is one instance where a prospect was sold high as he was part of the Delgado deal.

        Bob Keppel and Jae Seo are a couple more borderline pitchers the Mets signed and developed. Until we find some better starters I guess they would be on this imaginary 25 man roster…

        Baseballcube.com allows you to pull up season stats of the Mets minor league teams in past years. That might be a good way to spot a few others.

        Has no one mentioned Jesus Flores yet?

      3. NateW

        C – Jesus Flores
        1B – Mike Jacobs
        2B – Ty Wiggington
        3B – David Wright
        SS – Jose Reyes
        OF – Lastings Milledge
        OF – Carlos Gomez
        OF – Daniel Murphy

        Vance Wilson C
        Nick Evans 1B
        Danny Garcia IF (having no luck finding a better middle IF unless we want to count Kaz Matsui.)
        Jay Payton OF
        Angel Pagan OF (originally signed and developed by Mets)
        Preston Wilson OF (Justin Huber, Jason Tyner, Victor Diaz are other options at OF)

        Scott Kazmir
        Mike Pelfrey
        Brian Bannister
        Aaron Heilman
        Phil Humber
        Yusmiero Petit (there has to be a quality starter better than these last three?)

        Matt Lindstrom
        Joe Smith
        Heath Bell
        Dan Wheeler
        Octavio Dotel
        Jason Isringhausen (how did we all forget him?) (would be a nice addition to the Mets pen possibilities too)

      4. Displaced Mets Fan

        Nice job Nate — would have to think more to see if there are any others we are forgetting about, but looks like a squad that might be able to be competitive

      5. Displaced Mets Fan

        Also, Tyler Yates is still bumping around out there (although he was part of the David Justice trade, so we did not draft him originally), Tyler Walker, Billy Traber (most recently of Yankee fame), Endy (who started with the Mets before going and then coming back again), Lenny DiNardo (most recently of Oakland fame), Nelson Cruz (TX), Neal Musser (pitched with KC this past year), Gil Velazquez (played for Boston), Wily Mo Pena, Nelson Figeroa… etc. — I think we might actually exceed 25 when all is said and done. The problem with the theory is that more than 25 players make a major league roster per year per team (i.e. Figeroa was not on the roster all year long, etc.) so the number really should be higher, although the Mets might still cover.

        A couple of notes on some of the names above — Dan Wheeler, I think, was a minor league free agent pickup somehwere along the way and did not start with us. Diaz was also picked up in a trade along the way (for Burnitz)

        Posts like this make me wonder where players like Jeromy Burnitz, Butch Huskey and Mark Carreon are these days….

      6. NateW

        AJ Burnett, duh! actually he makes this a fairly competitive squad in terms of being a .500 team.

        you have a few I missed, most I dismissed for lack of performance (Musser, DiNardo) but good point about needing more than 25 players to last a full season.
        My bad with Wheeler and Diaz. Burnitz played with the Pirates in 2007 btw

        kinda sad that Gil Velasquez or Danny Garcia might be one of the three best middle IF’s the Mets have developed in the past 10 years…

      7. GravediggerHebner

        Wow, awesome job all of you!

        I am pleased to have been wrong about the Mets not having contributed at least their fair share of players (at least 25) to the overall major leaugue contigent. Some great memories of players spawned by all your contibutions.

  3. ravin108

    First a comment on this great post by Chris:

    The problem with signing players to big contracts is that the majority of the time these signings happen at the peak of a players prime. After a couple years under the reserve clause and an additional few of arbitration and even perhaps a short extension lasting beyond that, a player is typically at the highest level he will possibly be when he becomes a free agent.
    When the Yankees signed the likes of Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, and even Randy Johnson, people were just as afraid then as they are now. The perception of these players was much different. Looking at these players now, they don’t scare anyone. It doesn’t take long for many stars in their prime to regress to average baseball players again. And for that cost the Yankees lose draft picks and minor leaguers who can help your organization with trade flexibility, depth and filling important, but lesser regarded positions like utility players and middle relievers.
    Sure, CC scares the hell out of me, but who knows what he will be in five years. In my opinion, neither AJ Burnett nor Mark Teixeira is a top 10 pitcher or hitter in the league. Tex is a low .300 hitter who will hit about 30 homers if he is healthy all season. And this is in his prime. I have no clue why he is a 180 mil guy. Burnett is also nothing special and he is also in his prime. I don’t think he will be getting any better.
    Put it simply, I think Cashman and the Steinbrenners are stuck in the late 90s ideology of bigger is better. Well it is now almost 2009 and like Chris shows, $$ is needed but it does not buy championships. If the Yankees win this year, it won’t be because of their signings this year. It will be because of Joba, Kennedy, Hughes, and Cano getting back on track and becoming a solid core for this team.

  4. ravin108

    Now a comment on Omar and the Mets,

    What I’ve observed with Omar is that he always wants to have a core of talent on the team that is under the control of the reserve clause or arbitration level contracts. This will always assure the Mets flexibility to spend money filling emergency holes like closer this offseason.

    As Reyes and Wright slowly become veterans, Omar wants to usher in a new generation of home grown superstars. Hopefully that will be FMart, Pelfrey, and Murphy. Perhaps the next generation is Holt, Reese Havens and Wilmer Flores. This would explain why Omar has so far made these players untouchable.

    The rest of the farm system is there to play around with. Omar would love to keep all of these guys around to add to payroll flexibility and depth, but in NYC every 5 game losing streak is like a crisis. Omar will not hold on to these prospects if he can trade them to win now. While some may turn out to be the next Jeff Kents, most will either be average major leaguers or less.

    Since the Mets most likely pick in the second half of the first round, Omar will not spend out of the slot on a Scott Boras player who will be the next Phil Humber. He seemed to do just fine this past draft with the guys he got (although Ike Davis seems like a bust already with his crappy play and reports that he offended a female reporter this past season). Maybe I don’t know enough but I don’t see yet where Omar has gone wrong with the draft. Baseball is such a hard sport to project too so hindsight will always allow us to criticize.

    It’s so hard to rate farm systems. For a few years I heard how the Dodgers and Angels have the best farm system yet that doesn’t directly correlate to major league success. I don’t care where the Mets system ranks as long as we have the resources we need to fill in holes.

    Sure, the Mets haven’t met expectations these past years but I think its less the failure of the Mets and more the increasing competition from savvier general managers. I don’t think the Phillies have more talent than the Mets, but their pieces came together at the right time. The same happened with the Rockies two seasons ago or the Cardinals when they won the series. Very few people predicted any of those three teams would reach the series, which is evidence that sometimes teams just find fortune at the rough time. There are many things in baseball outside the control of the General Manager, but hopefully the Mets find fortune at the right time this coming season.

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