Every now and then I get into a familiar argument with friends regarding the international free agent marketplace and the Mets’ reluctance to enter it. They seem to have no issue delving deep into Central and South America when it comes to low-priced prospects, but when the opportunity arrives to grab hold of people who could help the club now, then they all of the sudden turn tail and run the other way.
Now the conventional “wisdom” has always been that whether you’re talking about Cuba, Japan or Korea, there’s no clear metric that can be used to gauge the level of play and how well the statistics will translate to Major League Baseball. True…for every Yoenis Cespedes out there, there is a Jorge Toca waiting to happen.
However, if you go through the annals of international free agents, there has been plenty of success. Consider Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Masahiro Tanaka, Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes, Jung Ho Kang, Shin-Soo Choo and others.
Now Mets fans are quick to point out that Kazuo Matsui not only displaced former fan favorite Jose Reyes onto second base, but his career was deemed a failure.
In his rookie season for the Mets he hit .272 with 7 HRs and 44 RBIs. He also stole 14 bases in 17 attempts. He averaged 8 HRs, 58 RBIs and a .267 AVG for his MLB career. You want to know who hasn’t done that? Ruben Tejada has averaged 3 HRs, 41 RBIs and a .255 AVG for his career, having stolen a grand total of 16 bases while being caught 11 times, yet Matsui is the one deemed a failure?
I’m not here to praise Matsui nor to bury Tejada. However, I do want to disabuse the notion that Matsui was a failure and thus should not be used as xenophobic justification for avoiding the international market for free agents. Last year, for example, the Mets could have gone after any number of international options but instead chose the proven “talents” of Michael Cuddyer who cost them not only $22 million over two years, but also their first round draft pick. International free agents do not cost the draft pick and thus for an organization looking to stockpile them to build for the future, avoiding the international market is puzzling, to say the least.
On the subject of getting proven major league talent, for purposes of brevity let’s only look at some of the Mets’ checkered history with free agents and long term contracts. Oliver Perez. Luis Castillo. Jason Bay. Frank Francisco. Michael Cuddyer. Chris Young. John Mayberry, Jr. David Wright. Johan Santana. I could go on.
You know what’s a much shorter list? Free agents who have succeeded – Carlos Beltran...umm…anyone…Bueller? (Curtis Granderson is a push thus far with one bad season and one acceptable season).
The point here is that the team needs to consider all available players who could help them win. Sticking to the “proven” crop hasn’t worked out too well. Being fearful of the unknown means man never would have ventured to the moon, yet in 1969 both that and the Mets proved to the world that the seemingly impossible could happen with courage and perseverance.
It was refreshing to hear that the Mets made a bid on Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, but we don’t know how serious they were about it. Still, it was encouraging to see them step out of their comfort zone and at least consider that the world extends beyond Alaska, Hawaii and Florida. Baby steps...