One of the mantras of the current Mets front office is the need to develop a strong farm system, so that the team does not have to go out and buy top talent consistently in the free agent market. Frequently we will hear references to the output of the Mets player development system of the early 1980s, which ultimately led to the 1986 World Championship team.
But should media and fans point to the early 1980s as the best era for player development? From 1963-1968, the Mets drafted or signed as amateur free agents at least 17 players who went on to significant roles in the majors, including the backbone of the 1969 and 1973 World Series teams. Here is a year-by-year breakdown of additions to the farm system in the 1960s:
1963 – Bud Harrelson, Cleon Jones, Ron Swoboda
1964 – Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw
1965 – Ken Boswell, Jim McAndrew, Nolan Ryan, Steve Renko
1966 – Mike Jorgensen, Danny Frisella, Amos Otis (minor league draft)
1967 – Jon Matlack, Gary Gentry, Ken Singleton
1968 – Tim Foli, John Milner
Additionally, the Mets drafted but did not sign Ron Cey (1966) and Burt Hooton (1968). And this impressive run came despite whiffing with the second overall pick in the inaugural draft of 1965 and with the top pick in 1966. In ’65, the Mets picked Les Rohr. The next player selected was Joe Coleman, who went on to a 15-year career in the majors. Of course in ’66 the Mets took Steve Chilcott and the next selection was Reggie Jackson.
For a comparison, here are the Mets draft picks and amateur free agents from 1980-1985, a similar six-year period:
1980 – Darryl Strawberry, Jay Tibbs, Kevin Mitchell, Doug Sisk
1981 – Mark Carreon, Lenny Dykstra
1982 – Dwight Gooden, Floyd Youmans, Roger McDowell, Gerald Young, Randy Myers
1983 – Dave Magadan, Rick Aguilera, David West, Jeff Innis
1984 – Keith Miller, Kevin Elster
1985 – Gregg Jefferies
Also, the Mets drafted but did not sign Roger Clemens (1981), Rafael Palmeiro (1982), Matt Williams (1983) and John Wetteland (1984). Additionally, the Mets whiffed in both 1981 (Terry Blocker) and 1983 (Eddie Williams) when they had the fourth overall pick and 1984 (Shawn Abner) when they had the top selection in the draft.
So, let’s compare the top 10 for both groups using bWAR, limiting it to those who actually signed.
The 1960s group far outdistanced the 1980s group in bWAR. However, it should be pointed out that three of the top four and four of the top six produced most of their value for teams besides the Mets. While that is not an insignificant point in the overall scheme of things, it is not the fault of the Mets’ farm system that management opted to trade its most valuable assets.
Interestingly, Omar Minaya oversaw six drafts. It’s extremely unlikely that the Minaya-era Mets will match the Frank Cashen-led 1980s in top 10 bWAR value. But at the same time, would it be a surprise if at least some of Minaya’s guys, which include Davis, Duda, Familia, Flores, Harvey, Havens, Mejia, Murphy, Nieuwenhuis, Pelfrey, Puello, Tejada and Thole, cleared 20 bWAR?
Meanwhile, it seems very possible that we will not get a top 10 bWAR list from the Steve Phillips era (who also oversaw six drafts) where the bottom half clears a 5.0 bWAR. Here’s how the list currently shakes out:
The only other players to amass a positive bWAR are Neal Musser & Jason Tyner, who each check in with a 0.1 total. But, as bad as Phillips was, unfortunately that’s not the worst six-year era in drafting/signing players in Mets history. That honor goes to the 1970-1975 group, which only managed to produce eight players in positive bWAR numbers.
Whitey Herzog likes to point out how the Mets traded away a dynasty by dealing players like Ryan, Singleton and Otis. But what he doesn’t point out is how poor the drafting was during the first half of the 70s, which included two years under his watch that produced just Boisclair and Baldwin. And we can go back a year further, as the 1969 Draft added just Joe Nolan (1.7 bWAR) and Buzz Capra (6.5).
A top-notch farm system should be adding a multi-year All-Star on average every year while also producing solid major leaguers on a regular basis. The top 10 list above from the 1960s produced 26 All-Star seasons, with seven multi-year All-Stars. The 1980s group also produced 26 All-Star seasons and seven multi-year All-Stars.
Here’s hoping that the six-year period from 2011-2016 cranks out All-Stars like the groups from the 1960s and 1980s did