CHICAGO – It's the same old New York Mets.
The same Mets that acted like they were on the cusp of contention in the offseason, once again acted during the trade deadline as if this roster is closer to a championship than it truly is. They also yet again operated in half measures, failing to build on their bold decisions.
The Mets acquired pitcher Marcus Stroman, a move that helps them in 2019 and 2020. They have not yet given up on this year despite being under .500, and have mentioned repeatedly how they feel they can still make a push. That’s a factor in why Zack Wheeler, Edwin Diaz, and Noah Syndergaard are all still with the team.
Ownership and front office personnel still believe in this roster for 2019 and beyond.
Yet, the Mets did nothing more to improve this club. They even traded Jason Vargas to the Phillies, which actually could hurt their playoffs chances since they trail Philadelphia.
That meant no relief help for a bullpen that still ranks among baseball’s worst, and no bench reinforcements despite a lack of quality options.
Instead of finding a reliever or bench player for the taking like the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves did, the Mets are instead rolling out the same team that entered Tuesday 51-55, only with Stroman for Vargas. The rotation has not been the reason for the Mets’ struggles this season.
“Our focus at this trade deadline was going to be to try to see if we could improve the team not only for the rest of this year, but also as we look toward the offseason and 2020,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “We wanted to make sure we only considered moves that were going to improve our club and keep us on-mission. Anything short of that was not going to be something we were ultimately willing to entertain.”
The Mets have long been focused on finding a way to playing meaningful games in September, and that overriding philosophy has kept them from rebuilding, and also jaded their view of where they truly stand.
The Mets had a chance to rebuild this offseason, but Van Wagenen believed a roster that had flopped the previous two years only need to be retooled. He saw a winner when most didn’t.
That meant acquiring Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, a declining second baseman and an elite closer, despite the Mets not being ready to truly contend. Adding those two is a move that a team on the verge of a championship can make as the final push. The Mets are not that team.
After that move, the Mets only added second-tier players while minimally upping the payroll. They didn’t pursue the top free agents like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. They didn’t build a super bullpen. They said they were all in and devoted to winning, but their actions did not back that up.
Flash forward to Wednesday and that scenario unfolded again.
Adding Stroman certainly helps this team now, but the Mets gave up two of their top six prospects for one-and-a-half seasons of the former Toronto pitcher when they might only contend for one season. It’s not a guarantee the Mets are going to be factors in the National League now or next year.
The team also further depleted a farm system that has been ravaged since Van Wagenen took over with 12 prospects being traded away, included the first two selections in both the 2016 and 2018 MLB drafts. Those jettisoned include stud prospect Jarred Kelenic and top-100 prospect pitcher Justin Dunn.
The Mets are eventually going to have to pay the bill for how they’ve handled the farm system.
“They better win now,” one league executive said.
Added another: “If you’re going for it in the next two years, it’s OK. If you are going to be relevant over time and cost-efficient, it’s a risky play.”
With how they’ve burned through prospects, it would have made sense for the Mets to try to grab a reliever or two at the deadline and try to bolster a unit that has the third-worst ERA in MLB. Trading one more lower-tier prospect isn’t going to harm the farm system any more than it already has.
But the Mets didn’t find that piece.
Yes, the bullpen has been much better since the break, but the Mets have been feasting on some of the worst offenses in the majors lately. They’ve played one series against a team with a strong lineup.
Adding a reliever or two for a prospect could have improved the Mets’ chances of actually trying to get back into this race. Van Wagenen said the team was not interested in rental relievers – although several went for next to nothing – and they prioritized a starting pitcher over a reliever.
“We felt like getting the starting pitcher in this market place was going to be more valuable than getting the relief pitchers,” Van Wagenen said. “Our bullpen has had its challenges at times, but we believe in the guys that are there, and we’re glad that we can go forward with the team we had. Short version, we prioritized the starting pitcher over the bullpen.”
The Mets’ decision to act as if they are contenders is also questionable since this team has not been a legitimate postseason threat since 2016.
The team’s 11-5 stretch in the second half that has them within five games of a wild card may be nothing more than feasting on an easy schedule that has included the likes of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox, and San Diego Padres, who have all been miserable since the break.
Perhaps the Mets are not committed at this point after the disastrous trade for Cano and Diaz, but they always seem to think they’re better than what they’ve shown. They operate opposite of what Bill Parcells said, not believing their record is indicative of their standing.
That’s why the team has been willing to listen to the likes of Syndergaard, Diaz, and Wheeler, but ultimately hang on to them, believing better days are ahead.
The Mets set exorbitant prices on those players, according to sources, even asking Houston for their top prospect, Kyle Tucker, in exchange for 10-11 starts from Wheeler. They wanted one of Atlanta’s elite prospects for Wheeler and asked for a ton for Diaz. Tucker is a better prospect than the two New York traded for Stroman, yet the Mets wanted more for half a season of Wheeler.
They also wanted major-league or major-league ready pieces for Syndergaard.
“They wanted too much,” said a source from a team that inquired on Diaz.
The Mets keep convincing themselves they’re going to be in the mix with a great rotation despite three straight seasons of not being able to do so.
“At the end of the day, we weren't going to move key pieces to our club unless we felt like we were going to be better positioned as we look at the long-term outlook of the team and the franchise,” Van Wagenen said of trading any of those starters. “We didn't find those opportunities and we frankly weren't seeking those opportunities out.”
Maybe the bullpen has seen the light and will start performing up to expectations in the second half. Perhaps they didn’t need a reliever.
Those events could all happen, but that would mean the last 16 games are more indicative of this team’s talent than the first 90.
The Mets had a chance to do more, and not act in half measures, but yet again, they were the same old Mets at the trade deadline.
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