Monday, July 31, 2023

Some Thoughts as the Trade Deadline Nears

I don't enjoy watching my high-priced team sell at the deadline, even if I agree with the decision. I hope the players that remain and are unhappy with this sell-off find motivation to avoid another next season.

I was surprised to learn that the Mets had traded Max Scherzer to the Rangers on Saturday. I really wasn't expecting Steve Cohen to fork over the amount of money it would take to trade Scherzer for any worthwhile prospect return. The Mets ponied up over $35 million of Max's salary this year and next, while the Rangers are paying him $22.5 million. In return, New York received Luisangel Acuña from Texas, a 21-year-old currently in Double-A. From what I read, Acuña has a chance to be a really good player, if not quite a superstar like his older brother Ronald.

My first instinct was to question if even an excellent prospect could be worth a still-effective pitcher and $35 million. But, of course, the thinking behind the deal is more complicated than that. The Mets' investment in Scherzer was a sunk cost. The $22.5 million the Rangers are actually paying Scherzer is money the Mets can reinvest back into finding some sort of replacement for Max, and they add a prospect who, from what I've read, slots in as either #1 or #2 in their prospect rankings.

I like Max Scherzer, but there's no denying that he hasn't been great this year. Max was also disappointing last year in his final starts of the season against Atlanta and then in the playoffs against the Padres. The Mets have a very realistic chance of investing that $22 million into a pitcher who outperforms Max next season. However, there's no doubt that there could be repercussions from the Mets dealing Scherzer beyond performance on the field. Already I am reading about players like Justin Verlander and Brandon Nimmo, questioning what the trade portends for how aggressively the Mets will pursue a title next season. Some will criticize the players for that, but it's a valuable concern for guys who signed with the Mets primarily because of the organization's commitment to pursuing a title.

Coming into this season, I thought that the Mets would lower their sights from pursuing a division title to trying to be good enough to grab a Wild Card spot. My thinking was based on my doubts that Steve Cohen would want to spend at a level required to rebuild a roster where 3 starting pitchers and CF Nimmo were all free agents. Cohen exceeded my expectations to the point of almost adding star player Carlos Correa to the roster in a massive bid to pursue a title. Even when the Mets couldn't come to terms with Correa, I thought the Mets were good enough to be almost a certainty for the playoffs this year.

As you know, that wasn't the case. There has been some significant bad luck, going back to the knee injury suffered by closer Edwin Diaz in the WBC. As we worried about coming into the season, the age of the roster led to some other injury problems. Some players, including Scherzer, just showed their age. The contrast was not flattering for the New Yorkers when the Mets played some of the better teams with younger, more athletic rosters. And Carlos Correa certainly wouldn't have saved the day with his .228/.304/.398 slash line and 92 OPS+ this season. The bullpen has been bad, mainly because the Mets can't create a single worthwhile arm they didn't buy at full retail on the free agent market.

But for all the flaws on this roster, there was still more than enough here to at least challenge for a playoff spot. The club's lack of resiliency and fortitude has been at least as disappointing as Billy Eppler's mistakes in building it. If you've been following me here for a while, you know I am not someone who indulges in fits of anger at ballplayers when things aren't going well. I can't think of anyone on this Mets roster to whom I feel any outrage. I will continue to follow and root for whatever is left of this team after the deadline until the season concludes. I will not secretly hope for anyone to fail, although I do have guys I'd like to see playing and some I'd rather not.

But frankly, if the trades of David Robertson, Max Scherzer, and whoever else goes make the remaining players less comfortable, so be it. Mets players have become too comfortable with losing over the years. It's not a bad thing to demonstrate there are consequences for underachieving — which, despite whatever mistakes Eppler is guilty of, this roster still underachieved quite drastically. If you're a Mets player and unhappy with this selloff, please take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what you contributed to this sorry situation.

Honestly, other than the remarkable breakout of Francisco Álvarez, and Tommy Pham, improbably returning to being a very good player, I don't think any of the Mets' position players are enjoying a year they should feel proud about. I'll give some slack to Brett Baty, who isn't quite as precocious as Álvarez but still looks like someone who can help the Mets in future seasons. I respect Mark Canha for what he contributes as an extra player who never complains about his playing time and finds ways to contribute when he does play (and he was just traded as I am writing this). Other than those gentlemen, even the guys who haven't had terrible years haven't done enough. If some had contributed a bit more, the Mets might still be in a realistic playoff chase.

On the pitching side, Kodai Senga has answered the challenge of adjusting to pitching in the United States quite well. David Robertson did his job very well while here. I hope the Mets keep Brooks Raley for next season because he has performed well. Justin Verlander has been solid if not quite a great pitcher any longer. Beyond these guys, no one should feel great about their season pitching for the Mets. At least Scherzer was honest about his part in this disappointing season.

It's not shocking to me that Billy Eppler seems to have conceded that the Mets will not be willing to spend even more money in 2023 to turn things around. Expectations will be lower, but the team should still be able to contend for a Wild Card. With a slightly different cast of characters, the Mets might be a bit of a feel-good story rather than the huge flop they are this season. And, while I am not an Eppler hater — the man works hard and is undoubtedly trying — I hope to see David Stearns running the show after this season. I'd love to see what that man could do with a large budget.

There is no reason to believe that 2024 is destined to be a failure, even though Stearns or whoever is calling the shots will face big challenges. Sometimes the changes that adversity forces you to make create unexpected opportunities. And Cohen will not allow 2024 to pass without some sort of run at a playoff spot.

For now, the Mets have upgraded their system and could add more players before the deadline. I'll try to weigh in on whatever else happens between now and 6 pm Tuesday. In the meantime, please be well and take care.

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  1. The fat lady hasn't sung yet...Canha and Escobar were guppies. Robertson and Scherzer were whales. Verlander is a blue whale. However, the money he'd cost to trade may make him a Met for 2024 (and potentially 2025). The other small fish like Omar Narvaez, Tommy Pham and the chubby DH should all not sign any long term leases.

    1. Yeah, if I had to guess, Verlander is still here after the deadline. Even then, he might possibly still be traded this winter. I never expected Max to be dealt, so I'd take any of my guesses with a grain of salt.


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