When Steve Cohen bought the Mets last year, he was buying a house that was a fixer-upper. In theory, the good news was that in being by far the wealthiest owner in baseball that he would have deep enough pockets to start throwing money at problems to fix them.
Right away he made it clear that beefing up the Mets’ analytics department was going to the number one priority. When he bought the team, the organization had the second-smallest research and development department in baseball. Now the Mets website lists 20 employees within the department, on par with some of the biggest in the sport. Obviously the fruits of this expansion have not happened yet, but if the goal was to greatly expand: mission accomplished.
The Mets top priorities right now are and must be hiring a President of Baseball Operations (PoBO), a General Manager and a Manager, but once those positions are in place, the new PoBO must broadly expand the team’s minor league player development staff. Across baseball, the teams that invest heavily in their minor league operations and player development are typically the ones that perform the best year-in and year-out at the MLB level.
WHERE ARE THE METS NOW?
First off, it is important to establish that minor league player development goes far beyond just instruction. It touches on mental skills, nutrition, strength and conditioning, education, and the general living conditions and accommodations for players at the different steps throughout the organization, but let’s limit the scope for now to just the instruction side. All those other aspects are their own discussions unto themselves.
Accounting for strictly non-coaches, the Mets website lists a player development staff of 13. That includes everyone from Director of Player Development Kevin Howard to all of the roving instructors and senior advisors. In the Bronx, the Yankees have 22 non-scout people working in their Player Development department, and the Yankees typically have five coaches in the dugout at every affiliate where the Mets have three or four.
It is important for the Mets to add quality personnel both in and out of the dugout for their minor league development operations for important and obvious reasons. A more robust analytics department is not just helpful in determining which players to go after at the MLB level and for fine-tuning performance of those players, but it is critical for player development.
Speaking to numerous Yankees minor league players this year, they all rave and appreciate the amount of information they get on their own performance from the organization. This helps them identify and improve on aspects of their game to improve their weaknesses and strengthen their strengths.
In order to turn that information into actual progress and tangible results, it is important to have coaches and coordinators who connect with players and can easily translate the numbers and identify solutions that can be put into practice. Those numbers touch across all realms of pitching, defense, offense and baserunning. There are so many different, little ways to improve organizationally, but there needs to be the player development infrastructure there to facilitate those improvements.
WHY THE YANKEES MODEL?
If one can block out the current frustrations of Yankees fans with their manager Aaron Boone, remember the run of success that the Yankees are currently on – five straight appearances in the playoffs (all coming since the last time the Mets were in the postseason), a .592 winning percentage in those five years, and they have not had a losing season since 1992.
Especially lately, the Yankees success has been driven by homegrown players (Aaron Judge), player development success stories (Gio Urshela), and savvy trades executed in large part thanks to the Yankees robust scouting operation (Luis Gil). There have, of course, been several classic Yankees free agent signings and blockbuster trades as well (Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole), but those moves were less about building the core as much as supplementing it with superstars.
Of course there is another AL East team that some consider to be a model of success, the Tampa Bay Rays. For sure, the Rays invest heavily into their analytics and player development departments. That being said, the Rays have made three postseason appearances since 2014 (just one more than the Mets), and have as many sub-.500 seasons as they do seasons finishing higher than third (three).
The Rays are far more experimental than many teams because they operate as a cash-strapped small-market team. This was the guiding principle of the Moneyball Oakland A’s of 20 years ago – we don’t have the money to compete with the Yankees, Dodgers, etc. so we have to think differently. The problem is, when it works, the rest of the league catches up which makes it a difficult model to sustain (see the Oakland A’s over the last 20 years).
Cohen is the wealthiest owner in baseball, and under no circumstances should the Mets choose to operate as a small-market team. They have the financial resources to operate like the Yankees and Dodgers, both of whom have seen more consistent runs of success, and there is no reason to not follow in their footsteps to build a dynasty in Queens.