John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Since it appears the Mets are largely finished making offseason moves, even if they really should be doing more to make good on their all-in declaration for 2019, now they have to hope a potential nightmare scenario doesn't unfold around them in the NL East.
That would be Bryce Harper returning to the Nationals, Manny Machado signing with the Phillies, and Craig Kimbrel reuniting with the Braves.
Suffice it to say such a trifecta would have to dampen the optimism that prompted Brodie Van Wagenen to say he sees the Mets as favorites in the division.
It would also influence my final off-season grade for the new GM. As it is, I gave Van Wagenen a B- as something of a mid-term grade a couple of weeks ago in a column sizing up the state of the NL East. And the depth moves he made a couple of days ago aren't impactful enough to raise that grade.
But because everything the Mets do this off-season is at least somewhat related to the rest of the division, that grade certainly could dip if their rivals wind up landing the free-agent whales in this market.
It still seems possible, although at this point who really knows what to believe about where Machado, Harper, and even Kimbrel ultimately sign.
All indications are that interested teams are proceeding more cautiously than expected for Machado and Harper, the two 26-year-old generational talents, wary of offering the 10-year, $300-plus million deals that had been forecasted for years.
Indeed, remember when some in the industry were predicting that Harper, in particular, might become the first $400 million player? That seems quite far-fetched now, in part because the slugging outfielder didn't follow his 2016 MVP season with similar eye-popping seasons, and in part because value-obsessed front offices have become more and more careful about handing out long-term contracts.
All of which has seemingly brought the Nationals back into play, only a few weeks after their owner basically declared them out of the running.
Then there are the Phillies, still apparently ready to spend "stupid money," as their owner, John Middleton, famously put it early in the off-season. They're still in on both Harper and Machado, but clearly they haven't made the type of over-the-top offer that would convince Machado, in particular, to sign with them rather than the Yankees.
Finally, the Braves could still make an impactful splash by signing Kimbrel to upgrade the bullpen, an area of weakness as times during their surprise season in 2018.
All three of those NL East teams have already made moves to improve their teams, but you can make a case the Mets have done as much or more as any of them. That's where a Machado or a Harper, especially, would change such an equation.
Add the re-signing of Harper, for example, to the moves the Nationals have made to bring in Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Kurt Suzuki, Jan Gomes, and Trevor Rosenthal, and that would make for a great off-season.
Likewise, if the Phillies were to sign Machado to go with the acquisitions of Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, their off-season would go from so-so to pretty spectacular.
Of course, there's nothing preventing the Mets from jumping in on Harper, as their fans have been screaming for them to do. Such a move would energize and excite a fan base that is again bemoaning the fact that they expected more this winter, based at least partly on Van Wagenen's bold talk in his first few weeks on the job.
Unfortunately, it's not realistic.
But maybe it's realistic to at least wonder if the Mets would re-assess should Machado and Harper land in the NL East, and re-consider signing A.J. Pollock to give them a star center fielder and a more potent offense.
I'm not dismissing Van Wagenen's most recent moves as insignificant. The lack of depth has been a major problem for this organization the last couple of years, especially when injuries hit, and trading for players like Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis address that need.
Same goes for Walker Lockett, the minor-league pitcher acquired in the Kevin Plawecki trade. There is nothing particularly impressive about his overall numbers, but the Mets see value there based largely on their new analytics model, courtesy of newly hired assistant GM Adam Guttridge.
On the other hand, though the Mets didn't' give up blue-chip prospects in any of the trades, some scouts believe they gave up too much potential value in some of the young minor-leaguers they dealt.
We'll see about all of that. Van Wagenen has been charged with winning immediately, but to be successful as a GM for the long run he needs to hire people who will do a better job of evaluating talent, both in the amateur draft and in the minor leagues, than the Mets did under Sandy Alderson.
In any case, the bottom line is depth is important; just not as important as front-line talent up and down the roster.
The Mets have enough to contend, if all goes well, just not nearly enough to be considered favorites in the NL East. Especially if Machado and Harper land nearby.