The New York Mets are in desperate need of a shortstop. They spent last year rotating between Ruben Tejada, who has had plenty of opportunities to show that he isn't an everyday hitter at the major league level, and Wilmer Flores, who may be a major league hitter when it's all said and done, but isn't a big league shortstop. So it's natural to expect that the Mets will be connected to every possible available shortstop on the trade, free agent or black markets this winter.
The hot stove doesn't typically catch fire until after the World Series is over, but Nick Piecoro of the The Arizona Republic has a tidbit up that may get it going early this year, at least in Phoenix and Queens. The article primarily focuses on the Diamondbacks logjam at shortstop, which includes Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed and Cliff Pennington, but in it he has a relatively benign quote from a scout who mentions the Mets as a possible trade partner and Rafael Montero as a piece that might get a swap done.
On the surface, the two teams seem like a good fit. The Mets have a glaring hole at shortstop and the Diamondbacks have a number of young, cheap players who would be upgrades over the terrible options the Mets have used the last two years. The Mets have more young pitching than perhaps any organization in baseball, making them attractive trade partners to any organization looking to rebuild.
But the idea of trading away that young pitching in order to patch holes elsewhere on their roster is a dangerous one to toy with, and the Mets need to look no further than the Diamondbacks in order to weigh the risks.
It was not long ago that the Diamondbacks boasted a stable of young pitching prospects that were the envy of baseball. As recently as the 2011 season, they appeared poised to head into the future with a young, cost-controlled rotation that would eventually feature some combination of Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, Tyler Skaggs, Jarrod Parker, Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin with Wade Miley and David Holmberg in the mix as depth options. It was a realistic question to ask where they would be able to fit all of these arms into a big league rotation that also featured veterans.
Within the next two years, the organization had traded away Skaggs, Bauer, Holmberg and Parker for help in various other places, including a deal with the Indians that saw Bauer traded away just 18 months after he was selected 3rd overall in exchange for the aforementioned Gregorius. In theory, it should still have left the Diamondbacks with plenty of young arms, but baseball doesn't work in theory.
Since then, Bradley's development has stagnated (though he's far from a lost cause and is still a top prospect). Corbin was fantastic before catching the Tommy John bug this spring. Amazingly enough, Miley has been the best of the bunch, but he's a league-average starter at best.
Less than three years after they Diamondbacks were thought to have more pitching than they knew what to do with, they have one rotation member from the crowd, one top prospect who is struggling with his command and is still likely a year away (Bradley), and one possibly coming back this season from elbow surgery. Despite their depth, they find themselves like everyone else - in the market for pitching.
The Mets can, and should, learn from this. The Mets have pitching depth on par with what the Diamondbacks boasted a few years ago. Trading it away, as we've seen in the recent past, can be a slippery slope. Pitching depth is tempestuous and can disappear as quickly as it arrives, and aiding in the process is a risky venture.
That doesn't mean the risk isn't worth taking, but it must be weighed carefully. The Diamondbacks returns for the pitching prospects they traded away were Gregorius, Mark Trumbo, Heath Bell, and Trevor Cahill. There are some usable pieces there, but nothing to build a team around. If an organization is going to take a risk like trading away a young pitcher, it has to be for something significant.
While Gregorius or Owens (the others are not viable options) may represent upgrades over the Mets current situation, that is at least partially because the bar has been set so low. Gregoruis is a fine defensive player, but at best he'll be a league average hitter and 2-3 win player, and even that requires a sizable improvement. Owings' game is different but his ceiling is around the same. Both would be upgrades over Tejada or Flores, but neither substantially.
If young pitching were required for a franchise veteran like, say, Troy Tulowitzki, then perhaps it's worth the risk (depending on the whole package, salaries involved, etc.), but cutting into young pitching depth in order to patch holes with marginal players is not.
And if the Mets need further proof that trading young pitching is a risky venture, then need look no further than the team currently trying to acquire theirs.