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The real Mets threat isn’t the Braves’ pipeline of phenoms — it’s what they do with them next

It is possible that Vaughn Grissom’s electric debut is mostly forgotten. It is notoriously difficult to project the futures of prospects making the steep ascent from the minor leagues to the majors. One great game does not mean greatness is coming.

It is also possible that Grissom, a speedy 21-year-old Braves infielder who cleared the Green Monster on Wednesday in his first major league game, represents another challenge to the Mets’ dash first to the NL East title and then to the World Series. The Braves are growing stronger.

It is not just possible but a near certainty that Grissom serves as a reminder: The Braves are built for the long haul, and their reservoir of talent under contractual control is going to be a problem for the Mets for a long time.

The 2022 Mets have been a revelation. If the Yankees owned the first half of the season, the Mets have been the second half’s darling. But the Mets are not a collection of plucky, upstart prospects coming into their own. Their roster is filled with veterans who have been here before, spiritually if not geographically.

Vaughn Grissom is the latest Braves prospect to jump from Double-A to a successful debut in the majors.
Getty Images

The Mets’ average age for a pitcher is 30.9, which is the eldest in all of baseball. Their average batter has been 29.8, the fourth-oldest in the game.

The average Braves hitter has been 27.9, the 10th-youngest in MLB. But more importantly, the players the Braves most want up to bat are their youthful stars — players who, for the most part, the Atlanta front office has been proactive in signing long term.

Ronald Acuña Jr., a 24-year-old superstar, can be in Atlanta through 2029 because the Braves identified him as a big part of their future. In 2019, they bought out his arbitration years and instead of awaiting free agency, when Acuña might be worth $300 million, they worked out an eight-year, $100 million pact that essentially serves as an insurance policy: Acuña became unfathomably rich, even if it meant not maximizing his earning power, and he no longer was a significant injury away from wondering where his money would come from.

The Braves acted similarly with second baseman Ozzie Albies ($35 million), whom the team can keep from free agency until 2028. Third baseman Austin Riley ($212 million) is under contract through 2033. The Braves essentially traded Freddie Freeman for 28-year-old Matt Olson, who is signed through at least 2029.

Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves at bat during the first inning against the New York Mets in the second game of a doubleheader at Citi Field on August 6, 2022 in the Queens borough of New York City.
The Braves can have Ronald Acuña Jr. around to torment opposing pitchers through the 2029 season after signing him to an early, long-term extension.
Getty Images

The position-player core at Truist Field is strong — and it is growing. All-Star catcher William Contreras, the 24-year-old brother of Willson, cannot be a free agent until 2028. The Braves did not even wait for Michael Harris II to reach Triple-A. They liked what they saw from the 21-year-old center fielder, so they allowed him to skip a level, calling him up from Double-A in late May. He has played like a five-tool star through 65 games. Mets fans may remember him from homering and throwing out Luis Guillorme at the plate in the one game the Braves won in Queens last weekend.

Is Grissom the next piece of this impressive puzzle? Possibly. The Braves used the Harris method, allowing the infielder to bypass Triple-A Gwinnett because: 1) they like him, and 2) Albies broke his foot, and their fill-in second basemen — Phil Gosselin, Robinson Cano and Orlando Arcia — were unimpressive. So a kid hitting .363 in 22 games with Double-A Mississippi got his chance quickly, posing as a possible threat to the Mets this year and just another threat to their chances for the next six or seven years.

The reigning World Series champs are going to be really good for a long time. The proactive contracts — the types the Mets have not given out — have essentially guaranteed that.

If the Mets made it clear they believed in Brandon Nimmo following his injury-plagued 2019 season, when he hit just .221 but still posted a .375 on-base percentage, what might a contract extension have looked like? Would the improving, injury-susceptible outfielder have taken a deal that bought out his arbitration years, perhaps with a six-year, $50 million pact to take him through 2025?

Brandon Nimmo #9 of the New York Mets dives to catch Jean Segura #2 of the Philadelphia Phillies ball in the third inning, Friday, April 29, 2022, in Queens, NY.
The Mets chose not to offer Brandon Nimmo an extension in years past, and after the 2022 he is having, it may prove to be an expensive decision.
Corey Sipkin

We don’t know. The Mets let the situation and Nimmo play out, and he has proven that he can stay healthy, that he can hit lefties, that he can play an above-average center field. He will hit free agency after the season and will be far harder (and far more expensive) for the Mets to retain than he would have been a few years ago.

The Mets do not yet have to worry about extensions with Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, either, so apparently they are not worrying about them. Declining to offer long-term contracts to young players who have not hit free agency might work out with pitchers (whose arms can be fickle) and with players who take steps back (what if Dominic Smith were extended after his breakout 2019 season?). But, in general, it ends up being a lot more costly — and unpredictable for a team’s roster — in the long run.

The Mets might have a team destined for the World Series in 2022, but there are so many unknowns concerning 2023. Perhaps Steve Cohen’s wallet takes care of a lot of the variables, but it’s hard to imagine it will solve every problem. Let’s take a look at players who can be or will be free agents after the season.

Starting pitchers:

Jacob deGrom
Taijuan Walker (player option)
Chris Bassitt (mutual option, which Bassitt is likely to decline)
Carlos Carrasco (a vested club option for next season)

New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom in the Mets dugout before the start of the game.
Jacob deGrom is one of four current starters who could be pitching elsewhere next season depending on how the Mets handle free agency this winter.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post


Edwin Diaz
Seth Lugo
Adam Ottavino
Trevor May
Trevor Williams
Tommy Hunter
Mychal Givens (mutual option)

Position players:

OF Brandon Nimmo
OF Tyler Naquin
DH Daniel Vogelbach ($1.5 million club option)

So, the Mets’ 2023 rotation will feature Max Scherzer, David Peterson, perhaps Tylor Megill and who else? The bullpen likely will be revamped, even if Diaz can be kept. The Mets already have relayed to Nimmo that they are interested in a long-term contract, which will be important for a leadoff hitter and center fielder, two spots that are difficult to replace. How interested will other teams be in a 29-year-old with a lifetime .385 on-base percentage?

Francisco Alvarez #19 of the Syracuse Mets in action during a game against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Coca-Cola Park on August 2, 2022 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Alvarez is the number one ranked prospect in the New York Mets organization.
Though fans have been clamoring to see Francisco Alvarez playing in Queens, the club seems content to get him more experience at Triple-A Syracuse.
Getty Images

There are so many unknowns for a team that has not promoted position players aggressively. Their top prospects — catcher Francisco Alvarez, third baseman Brett Baty and third baseman/first baseman Mark Vientos — have reached Triple-A, and shortstop Ronny Mauricio is in Double-A. The Mets apparently have determined they cannot or will not help this season. How helpful will they be next year?

That is a question the Braves, who have received instant impacts from so many young players this season and the past few years, are not asking themselves.

Today’s back page

New York Post

Is the Yankees’ stopgap running into a stop sign?

New York Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa strikes out off a pitch from Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Andres Munoz (Not Pictured) in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, Tuesday, August 02, 2022.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa has struggled to maintain the promising level of play he showed early in the season after the Yankees acquired him from Minnesota.

If the biggest questions around the Mets surround their future, the Yankees’ is more pressing.

Can they continue to rely every day on Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a stopgap shortstop who has at least filled the gap for four months?

In some ways, Kiner-Falefa has been as advertised. He makes good contact, with just 51 strikeouts in 101 games, and his .265 batting average is better than most. But any traces of pop have vanished — he has yet to hit a home run — and his defense has been surprisingly polarizing.

Kiner-Falefa has cited his above-average range in part for some of his mistakes, and the number of balls he has reached has created some discrepancies concerning his fielding. One of the most popular metrics, Defensive Runs Saved, ranked Kiner-Falefa as tied for the eighth-most productive shortstop defender in MLB entering play Thursday. Another popular metric, Outs Above Average, deemed him 19th out of 25 shortstops with at least 250 attempts.

Regardless, the Yankees have not received top-shelf fielding and recently have received low-shelf baserunning: Kiner-Falefa ran into an out in the 12th inning of Wednesday’s loss. With each mistake — and each Oswald Peraza hit — the question about the Yankees’ shortstop becomes more urgent.

Peraza is the Yankees’ No. 2 prospect, and he was valued enough that the Yankees made sure to hang onto him around a trade deadline when many others were shuffled out. After a rough start to his season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Peraza has caught fire. Entering play Thursday, he was batting .336 with 10 home runs — 10 more than Kiner-Falefa — in his past 37 games.

New York Yankees SS Oswald Peraza pops out in the 5th inning.
Oswald Peraza’s recent power surge at Triple-A suggests it may not be long before the Yankees ask him to play shortstop in The Bronx.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Aaron Boone said Thursday there are “no plans right now” to call up the 22-year-old.

“He’s been playing really well the last couple months,” Aaron Boone told ESPN Radio on the off day. “He’s very much next in line. With him already being on the 40-man roster, you can see a scenario where he did come up and help us. But nothing imminent as far as that’s concerned.”

If Joey Gallo had hit, perhaps Kiner-Falefa would be better shielded. If Anthony Rizzo, who missed a week with back tightness, were healthy and hitting, there would be less attention on the shortstop. Ditto with Giancarlo Stanton (IL, left Achilles tendonitis) and Matt Carpenter (IL, fractured foot).

The Yankees are running out of bats. Kiner-Falefa needs to play better than he has — he’s hitless in his past 13 at-bats — but he might also need the Yankees to get healthier to keep his job.

The more things change…

Daniel Jones #8 of the New York Giants carries the ball against Jihad Ward #55 of the New York Giants during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
It may be a new season for the Giants with a new coaching staff, but Daniel Jones still found himself under pressure yet again.
Getty Images

Football is back! Kind of.

The Giants’ preseason kicked off Thursday night — the first game New Yorkers could try to enjoy since Jan. 9 — with a 23-21 win over the Patriots. If you stayed up for the end, you either desperately missed the NFL or have a gambling problem.

The August games are relevant mostly to determine who will fill the back of the roster, and what we see from the starters has virtually no correlation to what we will see in the regular season. But Giants fans hoping to see a revamped and thriving offensive line in Game 1 of the preseason were not thrilled.

Daniel Jones (6-of-10, 69 yards) moved the ball and led the offense to a field goal. But the fourth-year quarterback was sacked once, and the Patriots’ defense hit him a few times. It means little so long as Jones came away from the game OK — and he did — but it will be worth monitoring an offensive line that has struggled so much to keep Jones upright in the past three seasons.

The Jets and Eagles kick off tonight at 7:30 in Philadelphia. Get ready to overanalyze eight plays from Zach Wilson!

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