May 28, 2020

Monday Mets: Trying To Turn Next Year Into Next Year

“Wait ’til next year.” For Brooklyn Dodgers fans, the uttering of this phrase was an annual ritual. While it would often take place near the end of the regular season, there were plenty of times when fans got to say it upon completion of a World Series loss. Like many of the Dodgers characteristics, this saying was easily adopted by Mets fans, however it is often declared sometime closer to Independence Day. It’s been over 30 years since the Mets had a “next year” worth waiting for. The acquisition of Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz (pending physicals) is a sign of the team’s attempt to make 2019 “next year”. Let’s take a look to see if this was a good idea or not…

First, for those who need it, here are the facts: The Mets will trade outfielder (and sort-of first baseman) Jay Bruce, reliever Anthony Swarzak, minor league outfielder Jarred Kelenic (the team’s #3-ranked prospect), minor league starting pitcher Justin Dunn (the team’s #4-ranked prospect), and mostly minor league reliever Gerson Bautista, for second baseman Robinson Cano, closer Edwin Diaz, and $20million in order to turn Cano’s contract from alarmingly disgusting to just plain ridiculous. I know that last comment sounds like an opinion, but I’m pretty sure it’s fact.

A buddy of mine had an interesting way of looking at this. For starters, as I mentioned before, we must take into account that the goal of the Mets wasn’t to win a trade, it was to improve the team immediately so that they could win the World Series next year.

So let’s break it up into 2 deals…

Deal 1) Mets trade Bruce and Swarzak to the Mariners for Cano and $20million. To me, this seems like a win for the Mets. The 2019 salaries almost cancel out and Cano will likely do more for the Mets than the other 2 guys would have next year. If you’re into WAR, in essentially half a season last year, Cano’s WAR was higher than anyone on the Mets aside other than Brandon Nimmo. So, if he stays relatively injury free, he would seem to be an improvement for the lineup. Yes, his salary will be an increasingly challenging issue with each passing year, and by 2022, his final year of the deal, it will be hard to justify paying him his $20million salary. Of course, in 2022 who knows what kind of players will be making that kind of money? In 2022, maybe we’ll finally have flying cars, plutonium sold in corner drug stores, little robotic pods that sit on the kitchen counter and play songs at request. Wait, we have that last one already? Neat.

Deal 2) Mets trade Kelenic, Dunn, Bautista for Diaz. Working backwards…Bautista has a great arm (regularly hits 100 MPH) but has never really shown himself to be a good pitcher post-rookie ball. It’s possible he becomes very good, and it’s more likely he doesn’t. Dunn was a first round pick a few years ago and was considered the Mets #4 prospect. This says more about the Mets lack of minor league depth than anything else. He strikes out a lot of guys and walks a lot of guys and projects to be a mid/end of rotation starter. Maybe he turns out to be better than that, although again, not terribly likely. Kelenic was the #6 pick last year and scouts have really great things to say about him. He was the #3 guy in the Mets minors and there doesn’t seem to be a knock on the guy. He’s probably 2-3 years away from the majors, I think. It’s upsetting that the Mets had to give him up because he could turn out to be very good. In return the Mets get the  best closer in baseball last year and, at 24 years old with 4 more years of team control. Dunn started 15 games last year for AA-Binghamton with mediocre results. Kelenic may really turn out to be a superstar, or he may not. Either way, we probably won’t know for a while. As for Diaz, let’s be clear about something: very few closers are consistently good for year. For every Craig Kimbrel, there are scores of guys like Brad Lidge, Jason Motte, John Axford, etc. These are all guys who were so good one year and so inconsequential for much of the rest. Then again, aside from Kimbrel (or even  including Kimbrel, perhaps), the free agent closers are no more of a guarantee and much more costly. At worst it’s an even trade, although it’s quite possible that the Mets did well for themselves.

Side note – often times when a trade like this goes down, many will talk about what the team “could have” gotten. I have already read and heard some say that the Mets could have held out for more money from the Mariners or could have stood pat and only given up one of Kelenic or Dunn. I don’t buy it, or at least, that’s too much speculation for me to use to evaluate a deal.

What I do know is that the window on the seemingly great starting staff is closing, so yeah, let’s try to make something happen now. Injuries could mess with the evaluation of this trade when it plays out so there’s always that. Especially in Flushing. Similarly, Diaz could fall flat and Kelenic could end up a Hall of Famer and this trade could be laughed at for years. There is certainly precedent for that. At the same time, the Mets 25-man roster will be better when this trade is official than it was before it.

When the Mets traded Michael Fulmer for Yoenis Cespedes, most people were excited but the party poopers (and there are plenty of them) thought it was awful because one year of Cespedes wouldn’t be worth the star that Fulmer would become. The Mets went to the World Series that year, thanks in no small part to Cespedes; and while Fulmer did win the AL ROY the following season, he hasn’t been as good since. Point being that trading the potential of the future for present-day improvement isn’t automatically a bad thing, even if it is easy to criticize it.

Obviously, I am in favor of trying to win now. It’s been over 30 years since the Mets won the World Series, and while replays of Game 6 (either Game 6 from that year) still give me chills, I’m pretty sure I’m ready for a new World Championship. The 2015 series against the Royals was so exciting and so much fun and also such a tease. So yes, if it’s going to cost a potential future star to try to make turn a mediocre team into champs, that’s a price worth paying. However, and this is such a big however that it should really be all caps, so…HOWEVER, this will need to be only the beginning of team improvements. If this is the only move the Mets make this winter, then they have only just put themselves in better position to contend for the wild card, and really no more than that. I sincerely hope that’s not their goal.