Mets have fallen further behind Yankees in this key area

Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

Attend a Yankees minor league game this summer in Somerset, Tampa or Scranton, and there’s a decent chance you will see Yankees vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring sitting behind home plate in the scouts’ section, honing in on players from his own system.

Naehring, whom GM Brian Cashman likes to call "my Gene Michael" after the legendary former scout, GM and manager who died in 2017, scrutinizes Yankees prospects, enabling him to recommend to Cashman which players to keep and who to make available in trades.

The Mets, for all their spending and recent progress closing the gap with their big brothers in the Bronx, lack an evaluator like Naehring.

Is Ronny Mauricio a keeper, or should we sell high on him after his excellent winter ball season? Will Brett Baty develop as a third baseman? Does Francisco Alvarez project to be a catcher, first baseman or DH, and is his bat ready now?

The next step forward for Steve Cohen and GM Billy Eppler should be to add a person or people whose eyes are trained to provide deeply informed answers to questions like that. Intellectual diversity is one element that differentiates good front offices from great ones, and the Mets could stand to improve in this area.

The team has scores of terrific scouts, analysts and bright minds -- longtime amateur scouting director Tommy Tanous, for example, remains a valued voice in the Cohen administration -- but overall, the difference between the teams is notable.

Cashman not only has Naehring, a former MLB infielder, but ex-Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry, and the recently hired Brian Sabean and Omar Minaya -- four people to the Mets' zero to provide crucial balance and traditional scouting and player development skills.

To be clear, we’re not falling into the same old, oversimplified old-school/new school divide here. Baseball people, and human beings in general, are not so easily characterized.

Naehring and Minaya are literate in the language of cutting-edge analytics and technology, and Mets officials who rose in the game with an analytical background, like assistant GM Ben Zauzmer, are open-minded and respectful to feedback from players and coaches.

Omar Minaya
Omar Minaya / USA Today Sports

But there is no denying that former field people add an element of lived experience and muscle memory that an academic background cannot duplicate. If you have actually turned a double play, you have a closer perspective on how it should look.

Here’s an example: When the Yankees were looking for a replacement for Derek Jeter, they sent Naehring to watch one shortstop whose numbers recommended him as a potential heir.

At the game, Naehring noticed that a rookie second baseman -- not the veteran shortstop -- was opening and closing his mouth to indicate who should cover second base. The shortstop was not captain-of-the infield material, and the Yankees passed.

Prior to this offseason, the Yankees were already strong in this area. Despite the perception that Cashman had become too reliant on analytics, he has kept Naehring and Hendry in his inner circle. The Yankees director of pro scouting, Matt Daley, is a former MLB pitcher. Kevin Reese, a former outfielder, runs player development.

This month brought two further additions in this area -- Sabean and Minaya. Minaya is beloved around the game, and Sabean is a particularly interesting hire for the Yanks specifically. As the team’s amateur scouting director in the late-1980s and early 1990s, he oversaw many of the drafts that built a dynasty. Cashman is fond of saying privately that while Michael earned the credit he receives for constructing those teams, Sabean deserves much more praise for it.

Like Cashman, Sabean learned scouting and player evaluation from Bill Livesey, another largely overlooked figure in Yankee lore. Livesey, who scouted and ran player development at different times in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, devised principles of player evaluation for each position that the Yankees still use today. To add Sabean in 2023 is to call back to the team’s glorious past.

Eppler had many of the same mentors as Cashman and Sabean, as did Buck Showalter. In fact, if Showalter were not the manager, he would be the perfect addition to the Mets’ front office -- a Livesey and Michael acolyte who speaks the same language as Eppler.

Eppler himself has extensive scouting experience, and learned the craft by literally sitting next to Michael during games. But as GM, he does not have the time to focus solely on evaluating or developing players.

What Eppler needs is a Naehring. Or a Hendry. Or a Sabean. Or a Minaya. Or even a Daley or Reese.

Diversity of thought, long a strength in Cashman’s cabinet, would make an improving Mets organization even stronger.