John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Not that there was any real doubt, but Robinson Cano's "I'm Not Done Yet" night at Citi Field on Tuesday was a pointed reminder the Mets will be trying to patch together and add to their flawed roster with the hope of trying to win again next season rather than rebuild.
Which raises an obvious question with the trade deadline a week away: what's the best way to improve for 2020?
Trading free agents-to-be Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, and even Zack Wheeler won't bring back much in the way of difference-making talent for next season -- not with the way GMs hold tight to their best prospects these days, especially in deals for rental players.
So what should Brodie Van Wagenen do then?
I polled five baseball evaluators, three scouts and two executives, looking for that answer, and with the understanding that rebuilding was not an option, the consensus was clear: have the guts to do nothing.
But only until the offseason.
"For me their most tradeable assets are (Noah) Syndergaard and Dom Smith," one of the executives said, "and because the Mets will be looking for a return that gives them immediate impact, those are deals you do in the offseason.
"At the deadline you're dealing with teams looking for a piece to get them over the top, and in most cases they're not giving up major league-ready talent in return. In the winter it's a different mindset. You bring the whole league into the mix, and teams are thinking more creatively about how to build a winner."
The others polled offered similar opinions, while making a couple of important distinctions between Syndergaard and Smith (or perhaps Michael Conforto):
1) Only trade Syndergaard for multiple players that could make the Mets a more well-rounded team in 2020. That's a different approach than dealing Smith or Conforto because, theoretically anyway, they have a surplus of corner outfielders -- especially if Jeff McNeil doesn't return to the infield.
2) At least listen on Syndergaard at next week's trade deadline.
"You never know what somebody might offer you for Syndergaard," one scout said, "especially since it's looking like (Madison) Bumgarner and (Trevor) Bauer could be off the market. So you ask for a huge haul and see if anybody bites, because the deadline is all about pitching.
"Look at the teams in the hunt. They're not looking for offense, unless maybe it's at a premium position up the middle. So somebody like Dom Smith isn't bringing back much at the deadline, but in December it could be a different story. A team might see him as a need for them, a cornerstone player, and if you're the Mets, your need might match up with what they can trade."
Ok, so what about the players in question?
Syndergaard is obvious: his talent is such that teams still see him as a potential No. 1-type starter. But his inconsistency might tempt the Mets to see if they can fill multiple needs by trading him when he still has two years before reaching free agency.
"The Mets need to get better and deeper in a lot of ways," said one exec, "so if I can get three pieces that can help me right away -- a starting pitcher, a reliever, and a position player, that might make sense -- even if none of them have Syndergaard's ceiling.
"What you have to weigh is whether their combined value makes you better than keeping Syndergaard and finding other ways to supplement your roster."
As for Smith, I made the argument in a column last week for keeping him, mostly because of his bat, but also because he looked more comfortable than expected in left field. But then his game-ending drop of the shallow fly ball in San Francisco was a reminder that he's still very raw out there -- something that will cost the Mets from time to time.
More to the point, the consensus from my informal poll concluded that, if Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil are off-limits, trading Smith in the offseason would net the biggest return of any position player. And that includes Conforto, largely because he would have only two years of control until free agency, as opposed to five for Smith.
And again, at least theoretically, the Mets will have a surplus of outfielders, presuming that Brandon Nimmo is back next season, that Jed Lowrie is healthy enough to keep McNeil from becoming the everyday third baseman, that Amed Rosario might be a better center fielder than shortstop, and, yes, that Yoenis Cespedes returns to contribute in some fashion in the final year of his contract.
That's a lot of ifs, obviously, but one exec made the point the Mets need to gamble if they're going to turn this team around next season.
"If you make the right deal with Smith you have a chance to improve your team, if you get good health with those other guys," the exec said. "If it's all about trying to win next season, which seems to be the mindset there, then I think you have to take that chance."
The people I polled had few specifics in mind for a potential deal, but one scout said he thought the Tigers might be a good match with the Mets in a deal that could involve Matthew Boyd, if the 28-year old lefty starting pitcher isn't traded at next week's deadline.
"I think the Tigers would be looking for a bigger package at the deadline," the scout said, "but if they don't get it, they might get to the offseason and see Smith as a good fit at first base. (Miguel) Cabrera has to be a DH now for them.
"They have a lot of good young arms coming that they want to build around, and Boyd (who has three years before free agency) will start to get expensive for them before they're ready to win again. So maybe that's the basis for a bigger deal involving other players, but if I'm the Mets that's the type of move I'm trying to make with Smith."
The scout acknowledged that such a trade would have to complement whatever else Van Wagenen does for next year, specifically with Syndergaard and perhaps even Wheeler if the Mets don't trade him next week.
"They need a plan because they have a lot of ways they could go," he said.
For next week's trade deadline, at least as other baseball people see it, that plan should start with patience.