The key to the Mets' season, in retrospect, was twofold: Homegrown pitching and in-season flexibility.
Now, many of us figured the starting pitching was playoff-caliber. The offense was the big issue, and the Mets' distinct inability to go all-in to improve it last offseason was a bone of contention for fans, to say the least. And in those dark days of June and July, when the Mets were fielding some of the most lackluster lineups in the game (on July 24, they became just the second team since 1920 to have its Nos. 4 and 5 hitters with batting averages below .180 and more than 100 at-bats), the frustration was at its peak.
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One wonders, though, if the Mets would have even been in position to swing the season-saving trade for Yoenis Cespedes (as well as the deals for Tyler Clippard and Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe) had they raided their farm system and their coffers to make major improvements last offseason.
The Mets took on roughly $8 million in those in-season trades, with Cespedes accounting for nearly half that sum. They gave up some good young talent in the likes of Michael Fulmer, Casey Meisner and Robert Whalen for short-term support.
Think back to the Mets' options for improvement last offseason. Many people were clamoring for the Mets to make an impact deal for a shortstop solution, but they stood pat.
In the end, Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada combined for a WAR of 2.9, per FanGraphs' calculations, while making a combined $2.4 million. Compare that to the top free-agent options -- Asdrubal Cabrera (2.2 WAR for $7.5 million), Jed Lowrie (1.0 WAR in the first year of a three-year, $23 million contract) and Stephen Drew (0.2 WAR for $5 million), and it's impossible not to come to the conclusion that the Mets were better off abstaining from that market. Obvious or purported trade options such as Ian Desmond * (1.7 WAR), Starlin Castro (0.8), Jimmy Rollins (0.2) and even Troy Tulowitzki (2.3) fared no better, and those deals would have involved both prospects and salary, especially in Tulo's case.
*Quick aside: Remember the report in January that the Mets had walked away from a three-team trade that would have brought them Desmond and cost them two prospects, including Noah Syndergaard? How awful would that deal have been? Furthermore, I seem to remember some national media speculation that the Mets should have dangled Daniel Murphy in a Desmond deal. Gulp.
Point is, standing pat at shortstop last offseason put the Mets in a better position to not stand pat this summer. And that turned out to be a big key in that National League East race with the surprisingly woeful Nationals.
This goes back deeper, though.
After R.A. Dickey's unexpected NL Cy Young Award season in 2012, there was heavy external pressure on the Mets to work out an extension that never transpired. Instead, the Mets dealt him to the Blue Jays, who were on the hook for Dickey's statistical regression while the Mets have reaped the benefits of Syndergaard and Travis d'Arnaud.
So that worked out well.
After 2013, Shin-Soo Choo seemed an obvious fit for the Mets' barren outfield. Instead, Choo signed a gargantuan seven-year, $130 million contract with the Rangers that has thus far been worth 3.6 WAR, while the Mets signed Curtis Granderson to a far-less-punitive four-year, $60 million deal that has thus far been worth 6.3 WAR.
So that worked out pretty well, too.
Time was, Flushing was a place where money and Draft picks were routinely flushed down the toilet. In 2007-08, the Mets paid $15 million for an old and oft-injured Moises Alou, and they committed $37 million to Francisco Rodriguez before '09 and $66 million to Jason Bay before the '10 season. In addition to the value of the performance not equaling the value of the investment, each of those guys cost them first-round picks or supplemental picks.
While some will be quick to add Michael Cuddyer's two-year, $21 million contract to that list, the Mets nonetheless entered this season with 16 homegrown players and fielded an NL Championship Series roster with 15. They have just five players -- David Wright, Granderson, Cuddyer, Jon Niese and Juan Lagares -- inked beyond 2015. Things will naturally evolve as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard and Steven Matz get more expensive, but, generally speaking, the Mets are in an extremely enviable spot. They've got a good system, a future financial picture that isn't overly onerous and a ticket to the Fall Classic.
Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you the Mets' master plan was executed to perfection. They backed into some of their success. The finite financial picture prevented general manager Sandy Alderson and Co. from making major mistakes in free agency, and we all know that Carlos Gomez was their intended trade target over Cespedes.
By and large, though, a patient operation centered around young homegrown pitching and relative penny-pinching has worked out wonderfully for your NL champion Mets.
No team in baseball has been criticized more in recent years for its spending practices. But in 2015, no team benefited more from a cautious, cost-conscious approach.