After quiet Deadline, Mets look inward
Kunz, Murphy and Evans give club homegrown boost
HOUSTON -- Eddie Kunz took two steps into Minute Maid Park's visiting clubhouse, dropped his bags with a heavy thud and scanned the room. Just to his left, a group of four Mets -- David Wright and Brian Schneider among them -- were playing cards at a crowded table. Kunz shook every hand. Reclining on a leather chair was Jose Reyes, who gave Kunz a knowing nod. And tucked into a corner behind Kunz was Nick Evans, who grinned broadly at his former -- and now current -- teammate.
There was a high five for Evans and a smile for Daniel Murphy, and later, a hug for Carlos Muniz. These men are all friends because they played together in the ballparks and buses of baseball's Minor Leagues. Now, quite suddenly, all of them are Mets.
"We weren't thinking about the future," Evans said. "We were just playing and trying to do the best we could."
And because they did remarkably well, it's not actually surprising that they're all Major Leaguers -- only that all of them are Mets.
Among the biggest of the big-market teams, the Mets boast a long history of free trading and freer spending, and in such a system, something has to give -- usually at the Minor League level. Those prospects who aren't traded find themselves blocked by layers of pricey talent in New York, and if they plan to make the Majors, they must do so with another team. That is the way the Mets have operated for years.
Then, one day last week, nothing happened and everything changed.
General manager Omar Minaya watched -- not entirely by his own volition -- as the July 31 Trading Deadline whizzed untouched past his office window, taking with it any chance that his team might make a significant acquisition for the stretch run.
The Mets almost always make a Trading Deadline deal, ranging from the significant (Xavier Nady for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez in 2006) to the downright momentous (Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano in 2004). Not that they didn't try this season. Minaya made clear his desire to upgrade the bullpen, or the outfield, or any other area where a hinge might be loose. But due to the combination of high asking prices and a lack of so-called impact prospects, he could not spring a deal at the deadline.
Later that Thursday afternoon, Minaya dialed into a conference call and explained his inaction: he regretted not being able to make a trade, but was certain that his organization's young talent -- Kunz and Murphy and Jonathon Niese -- would help the team this season.
Perhaps he meant to say this week.
Murphy joined the Mets two days after the Trading Deadline, earning a start in his first day on the job. Kunz hopped on his plane to the Majors the following morning, and Evans -- whom Murphy calls "the veteran" -- was already there. With an opening in their rotation next week, the Mets plan to consider Niese for a spot start. And so this organization's core talent is rapidly rising into relevance.
That wasn't always the plan, but now it is. And everyone seems pleased.
"It is what you would like to see," vice president of player development Tony Bernazard said. "It's always good to develop your own players."
"To be successful over an extended period of time, you're going to need the Minor League system to be strong," said Wright, one of the last products of the farm system to stick with the Mets. "But first and foremost, they've got to be able to produce."
That much hasn't been a problem. Kunz pitched a scoreless inning in his Major League debut, after spending Spring Training with the team and compiling 27 saves for Double-A Binghamton. Evans hit three doubles during his own debut in May, and has settled into a left-field platoon with his lunch buddy, Murphy. And Murphy poked a single in his first big league at-bat, before making a leaping -- and at the time, potentially game-saving -- catch to rob Ty Wigginton of a double in Houston.
Bernazard watched that catch stone-faced from the press box in Minute Maid Park, and remained that way until Murphy fired a relay to second base, doubling up Hunter Pence to end the inning. Only then did Bernazard let out a loud yelp, clapping furiously at the play's conclusion.
"This is good for the organization," Bernazard said. "Very good."
Now make no mistake -- the Mets are still a team with a heavy reliance on veteran talent. But they're willing -- if not entirely committed -- to press onward with more than a few younger parts.
Just last week, such a philosophy would have furrowed brows. But the Mets stood their ground at the Trading Deadline, took a glance in the Minor League mirror, and determined that their players were absolutely ready to succeed.
"I think the organization's shown a great deal of passion for the Minor League system," Murphy said. "They're committed to development. And hopefully we can help this team win after all they've done for us."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.