NASHVILLE -- Crowded into a ballroom early Tuesday evening, a group of Mets executives had more at stake than most others around them. Major League Baseball’s annual Draft Lottery was about to begin at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, featuring its share of glitz. Country music star Brad Paisley was on hand to read the results live on MLB Network, while luminaries from all 18 participating teams -- including Howard Johnson for the Mets -- watched from their podiums.
Sitting off-stage in the crowd, the New York executives watched as Paisley read off all 18 spots. They never heard their team’s name called.
That was due to a quirk of the system. Because the Mets exceeded MLB’s second Competitive Balance Tax threshold for a second consecutive season, their top Draft pick was due to drop 10 places unless they landed a protected Top 6 selection. They did not. Instead, the Mets sunk to ninth in the lottery, which meant their pick fell to 19th overall.
It was a disappointment for New York, which entered the day holding a little worse than a coin-flip shot at landing a protected pick, and even a 4.3% shot at drafting No. 1 overall next July. The Guardians instead received that benefit despite finishing above the Mets in the standings, while New York, which had the league’s eighth-worst record at 75-87, took an unlucky dive.
“You always have hope,” said new Mets vice president of amateur scouting Kris Gross, referencing Cleveland and Cincinnati’s perches atop the Draft order. “We saw what happened in the state of Ohio tonight. They both jumped up, and they’re picking 1-2. It’s going to be exciting for them.”
Consider this an early challenge for Gross, whom the Mets recently hired away from the Astros to run their Draft. A colleague of David Stearns in Houston from 2012-15, Gross joined the Mets shortly after the team hired Stearns to be its president of baseball operations. During his tenure in Houston, Gross helped Draft more Major Leaguers (58) than any other club. In New York, he will look for similar success despite the disappointment of Tuesday’s news.
“With Houston, we’ve picked anywhere from 1 to 28 to 80,” Gross said. “So I’ve seen it all. I’ve been through it all. Nineteen is a pretty enticing spot.”
From a wider angle, going from No. 9 overall to No. 19 is hardly a disaster for the Mets. Roger Clemens was a 19th overall pick. So were Mike Scioscia and, more recently, former Mets prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong. Plenty of talent emerges annually from the back half of the first round.
More importantly, the organization is confident that under Stearns, Gross, longtime scouting head Tommy Tanous, and new senior vice president of player development Andy Green, the Mets will eventually build a strong farm system regardless of their Draft position. That process gained momentum last summer, when the team traded Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and several others for prospects. It will continue not just in 2024, but for years to come.
“We have an ownership and owner that’s willing to invest in our club in a pretty powerful way,” Green said. “We have a leader in David that has proven he can do some special things, as well. And then when you look down through [player development] and have an opportunity to get a feel for the people that are leading our players, it’s really encouraging.”
So yes, the Mets were disappointed not to land a Top 6 pick. No, they have no intention of letting that disappointment linger.
“From an organizational perspective, I don’t know that it’s going to alter our evaluation philosophies all that much,” Stearns said moments before the lottery results became public. “We certainly know if we’re picking in the Top 6, there’s going to be more attention to us. But our approach really should be the same regardless of where we’re selecting.”