As Bill Parcells so famously said, “you are what your record says you are” and for the Yankees and Mets it can probably be added “you are what the standings say you are” because the teams in front of them likely aren’t coming back to them this season — and for that matter next year either.
In the Yankees’ case, the absence of Aaron Judge has shown just how naked their lineup is of All-Star caliber players. The hard truth is, the Rays and Orioles have better, younger and more athletic players at almost every position than the Yankees’. And for all the money Steve Cohen has poured into the Mets, the Braves are Exhibit A for there being no substitute for developing your own talent, especially starting pitching.
That the Mets ($344 million) and Yankees ($280 million) are 1-2 in the majors in payroll and both wallowing in and around fourth place in their respective divisions is testimony to their commitments to free agency in the absence of a better job of player development.
With an average age of 30.39, the Yankees are the oldest team in the American League and many of their key players — Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, Gleyber Torres — are in decline with no bona fide replacements on the cusp from their player development system. (Most concerning: Jasson Dominguez, “The Martian,” is really struggling at Double-A Somerset, (.199 with 77 strikeouts and just 44 hits as of Friday). By contrast, the Rays’ core — first baseman Yandy Diaz, shortstop Wander Franco, outfielders Randy Arozarena, Jose Siri and Josh Lowe, DH Luke Raley and third baseman Isaac Paredes — are all coming into their prime.
But the team to really watch in the American League is the Orioles who have been holding firm behind the Rays in second place in the AL East since April 21, with a young core — catcher Adley Rutschman, third baseman Gunnar Henderson, center fielder Cedric Mullins, left fielder Austin Hays, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and right fielder Anthony Santander — that will soon get even better when recent top draft picks, outfielders Colton Cowser (1st round 2021 out of Sam Houston State) and Heston Kjerstad (1st round 2020 out of Arkansas) and shortstop Jordan Westburg (1st round 2020 out of Mississippi St.), all of whom are having excellent seasons at Triple-A Norfolk, matriculate to Baltimore. Rutschman, Henderson, Cowser, Kjerstad and Westburg are all the residue of the Orioles’ tanking from 2017-21 with four last place finishes.
In terms of a looming talent gulf with their principal rivals, the Mets, who at 31.44 average age are the oldest team in baseball, are facing a far bigger challenge to catch up with the Braves, who have done the best job of player development of any team baseball. While Steve Cohen is presently paying $130 million on an all-imported starting rotation with the 26th worst (5.01) ERA in baseball, the Braves have four starters in their rotation – 24-year-olds Bryce Elder, Jared Shuster, Spencer Strider and 20-year-old AJ Smith-Shawver — all making barely the major league minimum with a combined 3.34 ERA as of Friday. The Braves got Schuster (1st round out of Wake Forest), Strider (fourth round out of Clemson) and Elder (5th round out of Texas-Austin) all in the 2020 draft alone, while Smith-Shawver, who was called up in June after their titular ace Max Fried went down with a forearm issue, was a seventh round pick out of high school in the 2021 draft.
And you can add to them Kyle Wright, sidelined until late August with shoulder inflammation, who led the majors in wins last year and was a first round draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2017. That’s an incredible record of success drafting pitchers! Combine that with core players Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies and Michael Harris II all out of the system and the fact the Braves have only one regular (Eddie Rosario) over 30, and it’s clear they are going to be quite formidable for years to come.
By contrast, the reason Cohen found himself in the position of having to pay Max Scherzer, 38, and Justin Verlander, 40, outlandish $43 million-a-year salaries was because, other than Jacob deGrom, the Mets have not drafted and developed a frontline starting pitcher since Matt Harvey in 2012. And unfortunately, after the failures of David Peterson and Tylor Megill this year, there are no frontline starting pitchers on the horizon in their system. Hence the trade of Eduardo Escobar to the Angels Friday for two marginal pitching prospects Coleman Crow and Landon Marceaux. There’s a desperation for arms with the Mets — and why their under .500 record is what they are and what they figure to be next year as well.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD
What in tarnation is going on in “Zinzinnati”? After finishing fourth or fifth seven of the last nine years, the Reds have suddenly caught fire, soaring into first place in the NL Central on the wings of a 12-game winning streak. It all kind of started when the Reds called up 21-year-old power and speed shortstop/third base phenom Elly De La Cruz on June 6 who has already proven to be the fastest man in baseball and became the youngest player in 51 years to hit for the cycle Friday against the Braves. Through successful drafts and a couple of judicious trades by GM Nick Krall the Reds already had a nucleus of good young talent when De La Cruz arrived. Their 1-2 righty/lefty starting pitching punch Hunter Greene (presently sidelined with a hip injury) and Andrew Abbott were first and second round draft picks respectively, while shortstop Matt McLain (.306/.366/.476) and power hitting second baseman Jonathan India, the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year, are former first round draft picks and center fielder TJ Friedl (.315/.380/.478) was an undrafted free agent in 2016. Last week, Reds icon Joey Votto returned to action for the first time since last Aug. 16 (when the Reds were a fourth place team 45-70), and he found a bit of a log jam at first base thanks to Krall’s trade of Tyler Mahle, a No. 3 starter, to the Twins last year for Spencer Steer, one of the Reds most productive players (10 HR/40 RBI/.824 OPS) and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, the former Oklahoma State All-America, who’s absolutely raking at Triple-A Louisville (.338/17 HR/1.019 OPS) at first base and third base… Former Yankee reliever George Frazier, who found ignominy as the only pitcher in history to lose three games in a World Series (1981) passed away at age 68 last Monday. A player I knew well, Frazier was a delightful, fun-loving spirit who made up for 1981 by later becoming one of the highest paid relievers in baseball for the Twins in ‘86 and ‘87 before going on to a long career as a broadcaster for the Rockies. RIP.
Source: Berkshire mont