The New York Mets have a full rotation's worth of talented young pitchers; the Chicago Cubs have a full infield's worth (and beyond) of talented young position players. If you had to choose between one or the other, which would you take?
Rubin: Homegrown pitching brings prosperity
The arrival of left-hander Steven Matz completes the Mets' renovation of their rotation. Matz joins Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, at least once Wheeler returns next summer from Tommy John surgery. The celebrated collection of flamethrowers in their mid-20s should remain together at least through the 2018 season, after which Harvey is eligible for free agency.
Given the choice of a rotation of young standouts or a comparably talented collection of position players, it is a no-brainer to prefer the pitching.
No doubt, pitching is inherently risky. After all, deGrom, Matz, Harvey and Wheeler all have undergone Tommy John surgeries during their professional careers. Yet that only underscores how vital it is to have young, cost-controlled starting pitchers.
Although Mets officials have done a poor job of bringing in position players with capable bats to complement the pitching, it is much less risky to bring in a hitter on a long-term free-agent contract than, say, needing to lure an elite starting pitcher via free agency.
Just look at the Mets' recent history with longer-term contracts to elite starting pitchers. The Mets, upon acquiring Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins on the eve of spring training in 2008, handed him a six-year, $137.5 million contract. While Santana ended up tossing the first no-hitter in franchise history, he ultimately made only 109 starts during the entire six-year contract -- an average of 18 starts a season during the duration of the deal.
Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez signed a four-year, $53 million deal with the Mets in December 2004. Similar to Santana, Martinez averaged fewer than 20 starts a season during that stretch.
Possessing the arms and bringing in the free agents on the position-player side clearly is preferable (as long as you're spending the dollars on Matt Holliday instead of trying to save a few bucks with Jason Bay).
Folks may note that the Mets' Generation K -- Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson -- fizzled. But the current collection of young starting pitchers seemingly are past the point of concern about whether their major league careers will blossom. Harvey, despite a few erratic performances as he works back from Tommy John surgery, has proved he is healthy. A season after earning the NL Rookie of the Year award, deGrom is on the verge of his first All-Star selection. Wheeler sizzled the second half of last season, going 6-3 with a 3.04 ERA and .223 opponent batting average in 13 starts. And Syndergaard and Matz have shown infinite promise as well.
Make no mistake: The Cubs' Kris Bryant, for example, is an elite prospect. But the collection of young pitching that the Mets have assembled is the clearest route to ultimate prosperity.
Rogers: Good hitters are hard(er) to find
It's all about supply and demand.
In baseball right now there is an abundant supply of pitching while good hitters are hard to come by -- at least ones who are available.
Quick, name the top free agents to-be who are hitters. It's not that easy. But before you can spell Samardzija you'll be able to reel off the top starting pitchers who should be going to the market soon: Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, David Price and yes, Jeff Samardzija, are just a few of a handful that will be free agents after this season.
Knowing this landscape, it's no coincidence the Cubs have chosen position players in the first round of the amateur draft in each of the four years Theo Epstein has been in charge.
Epstein, and others, saw baseball changing. The elimination of PEDs as well as other helpful substances (amphetamines) ended the offensive era in the game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the major league batting average was never below .260 from 2005-2009. Since then it's never been above it, falling to a low of .251 last year. In 2006 there were 11 batters who hit 40 or more home runs. Last year there was one. Simply put, pitching like the Mets have still wins, but good hitting is far harder to find.
So the Cubs went about finding hitters in the draft knowing -- or at least hoping -- they would acquire pitching when it was needed. Third baseman Kris Bryant was taken, as was catcher Kyle Schwarber, and then they traded for middle infielder Addison Russell. The other aspect of the strategy is hitters are more reliable. They can be plugged into a lineup and left alone for a decade if they're the right caliber. The same can be true of the top pitchers -- until they get hurt. They're the bigger injury risk. Then you're left scrambling.
None of this means the Cubs think they'll simply outhit everyone to a championship. Already they're feeling the effects of not drafting or trading for more good arms.
"We know we have to address it here at the deadline," general manager Jed Hoyer said just days ago.
Whether it's at the deadline or during the winter, the Cubs must acquire some pitchers. They'll need to work on parallel paths of grabbing both types -- the veteran via free agency and the youthful one via trade. Maybe these Mets will be a good trade partner after all. There has been much speculation about the two teams over the past year from recent rumors about Jon Niese or year-old ones regarding Noah Syndergaard.
The Cubs have a strong position player base to trade from, if and when they want to pull the trigger on a deal. Having said that, they won't choose a core pitcher over a core hitter. If they wanted that they would have drafted that way or not traded Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo a few years ago.
So the Cubs could very well contend for the next five to 10 years with the same group of position players while their starting staff might turn over several times. Only Jon Lester is locked in long term. They've chosen this path because it gives them the most certainty, as well as a plethora of hitters other teams should covet.
The simple fact of the matter is the Cubs hope to find pitching because there's plenty to go around in baseball these days. The same can't be said of young hitters. The Cubs have cornered the market in that department.