It’s a fascinating query, a paradox of sorts, a question with no easy answer. That fact speaks more to the New York Mets lingering status in baseball Nowhere Land than anything else. No matter, identifying four core or foundational players of the New York Mets can be a real baseball brain teaser.
The concept of the ‘core four’ evolved from our pinstripe rivals across town when four homegrown prospects; Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada, became the foundational pieces of sustained baseball excellence in the Bronx. The Yankee core provided the Bombers a talented baseball foundation, a core of hungry consistent, relentless baseball exemplars Yankee management could build around to keep the Yankee machine running in high gear for much of two decades.
Building comparisons to the Yankee ‘core four’ is an impossibility. Few could have predicted the success of these four Yankee prospects when they were signed. Only Jeter was highly rated and considered a can’t miss pick. The other three were signed in the 22nd and 24th rounds and as a free agent of the amateur draft. Their legend as the indefatigable core of the Yankee success, as the unmovable granite on the pinstripe roster evolved over time. That’s not a scenario that meshes well with the current standing of our New York Mets.
Stop the procrastinating and select four players Met management could use as the centerpiece of even a short run of baseball success in Flushing. Okay, here goes.
- Matt Harvey – In some ways selecting Matt Harvey is a no brainer, yet in some ways picking Harvey is a leap of blind faith. After his arm surgery last summer, no one can really be sure what the Mets will have in Matt Harvey when he returns to the mound next spring. What we know for certain is that Matt Harvey is a unique baseball talent, a rare combination of intelligence, bravado, authenticity, chutzpah, and baseball skill that can transform the culture of a baseball franchise. The 2013 Mets that took the field when Matt Harvey pitched were a different animal than the squad that played working through the other four days of the starting rotation. Harvey is the type of guy who simply won’t accept losing, the iron willed like persona needed in a baseball core. Until he proves otherwise, Matt Harvey is the only non-negotiable member of my Met core four.
- David Wright – As it stands, David Wright is the cornerstone of the New York Met franchise, destined to become the greatest player to ever wear the New York Met orange and blue. David Wright bleeds Mets blue. He grew up near Norfolk Virginia watching and rooting for the Tides, the Mets Triple-A franchise located in Wright’s home town. Wright is proud to wear a Met uniform and willing to personally sacrifice for the chance to play for Met fans in Citi Field. Fred Wilpon once called David Wright a really good kid, a very good player, but not a superstar. Based on NY Met standards, David Wright is a superstar, the pick of the litter, a border line Hall of Famer. Wright, a career .300 hitter, is the all-time Met leader in a host of offensive categories which will soon include home runs. It’s a shame, the Mets fell into franchise disarray during peak years on David Wright’s baseball arc. But, loyal to a fault, David Wright always remains on script for the NY Mets, a solid baseball fixture for some time to come in Flushing and reliable source as one of the four core to build a baseball franchise around.
Naming a ‘core two‘ was not that difficult. From here the chore becomes almost ominous. What players on an underperforming baseball team or unproven but highly regarded prospects in a vastly improved player development system could be included in a core four?
A rabid Binghamton Met baseball fanatic, I have watched almost all of the most promising Met prospects for extended stays playing Double-A ball in Binghamton. My interest in minor league baseball has taught me predicting the success of developing baseball players is an inexact science at best. Had I evaluated Matt Harvey’s value purely based on his minor league performance in Binghamton it would be preposterous to include him as part of a ‘core four‘ baseball gang in Flushing. For those reasons, the final two players of my ‘core four‘ would need to come from the players currently on the Met roster.
- Curtis Granderson – At face value, judging only by baseball statistics, Curtis Granderson is an unlikely candidate to be included in a New York Met ‘core four.‘ But the bigger the sample size of Curtis Granderson baseball in Flushing, the more Met fans are coming to appreciate his baseball contributions. Intelligent and adaptable, after a horrid debut in Flushing, Granderson is proving once again he can mold his hitting approach to fit the venue where he plays and the batting demands for who he plays for. With the Yankees, Granderson’s contact swing disappeared replaced by a pull hitting approach to take advantage of the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. When that approach was a dismal April failure at Citi Field, Granderson went about the hard work of adapting once again and the results have been satisfying. Granderson adds a desperately needed home run threat to the Mets line-up. His production at the top of the Met line-up helps fill a huge void in the lead-off spot. Equally important, Granderson has a great clubhouse presence and is a badly needed positive voice for the Mets. Granderson gives the Mets a bonafide outfield major league presence in the everyday line-up.
- Juan Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud or Jeurys Familia? Who do I choose. Lagares gives the Mets a defensive outfield presence that is difficult to replace. d’Arnaud provides heaps of untapped promise, a polished defensive catcher with a huge offensive upside. And, with his nasty stuff and near triple digit fastball, Familia could be the sleeper in the group, the right-handed relief arm that someday could evolve to become a prized stopper in the Met bullpen.
I’l give the nod to Lagares. With the Mets poised to stage a pitching first reinvention, defense becomes more important than ever and Lagares brings an elite glove to center field for the Mets. Lagares’ defensive play is rare and special. Baseball Reference labeled his 2013 defensive play in center field as the ninth best defensive performance by a baseball center fielder of all time. Although the Mets were slow to appreciate the value of just what that means, defensive play at that level is almost irreplaceable. And, Lagares shows signs of developing into an average to above average stick at the plate. That’s the kind of performance a baseball team can build around.
Harvey, Wright, Granderson, Lagares, my Met ‘core four,‘ a tough call indeed. If you were asked to determine four players in the Met organization, not more, not less, to become a core to build anchor future Met baseball success, who would you choose?