Right now, the Mets occupy the most uncomfortable position in baseball: fringes-of-the-race-in-July purgatory.
At 6.5 games behind the Nationals in the NL East, and in third place behind the Marlins, the path to the division title is unlikely. Even worse, the Mets have finally dropped out of Wild Card position, sitting third and smack dab in the middle of a group of five teams separated by only four games (Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Cardinals, Pirates). Fangraphs puts their odds at winning the NL East at 4.8%, and their odds of winning a wild card spot at 34.4%.
Decimated by injuries to David Wright, Lucas Duda, and 3/5ths of the starting rotation (although Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz continue to take the mound, for now) this is not the team we expected to see in the spring. Nonetheless, the Mets remain on the fringes of the race at 49-43 (on pace for an 86 or 87 win season) and do not appear to be clear buyers or sellers.
You can make arguments either way. The Mets have the second-easiest remaining opponent win percentage (buy!) but have very little in the farm system to trade away for a rental (don’t buy!). The Mets have an incredible asset in Yoenis Cespedes to trade if he is willing (sell!) but, at just one game out of the Wild Card, it’s a challenge to give up in July with 70 games remaining (don’t sell!).
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Whatever it is that the Mets decide to do, all I want them to do is do it as soon as possible. Right now the Mets seem to be cobbling together a plan that is the worst of all available options, playing like a team in buy-mode, but not buying any assets that will actually help them.
- Trade low-level prospects for insignificant rentals that won’t really help? Check. (Kelly Johnson)
- Ask players to play hurt? Check. (Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard)
- Ask players to play out of position? Check. (Michael Conforto)
It is my personal preference that the Mets sell right now and try to come back healthy in 2017. Let Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler rehab, let Matz have surgery, and carefully guide Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom to the finish line instead of pushing them to the limit in a likely lost year. Trade your most valuable pieces, like Yoenis Cespedes and Addison Reed, for prospects that can help fortify the 2017 roster. Prepare Wright, Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson for life after the Mets and invest in Conforto and Dilson Herrera. Then, use the money saved and make a splash in the offseason.
But if you’re not going to sell — then by God you have to do something to help this team that is more than asking a rookie like Conforto to learn to play center field in the middle of a pennant race (are you guys serious?!).
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If the Mets ownership wants us to believe they are serious about winning in 2016, and not just trying to sell tickets, then they need to prove it. I don’t want them to trade a blue-chip like Amed Rosario, but every other player in the system is up for grabs in the right deal. They can also avoid trading away prospects by giving Sandy Alderson the latitude to acquire an unfavorable contract.
With that in mind, here are some guys who might be on the move who I am interested in:
- RF, COL, Carlos Gonzalez. He’s at 2.6 WAR this season and hitting .318, but the Mets would have a hard time fitting another left-handed corner outfielder into the mix. He’s owed $20 million in 2017.
- SP, SDP, Andrew Cashner. He’s never reached his potential and is scuffling this year, but perhaps some time with Dan Warthen would do him well. He’s a rental who may come cheap and has upside.
- 3B, LAA, Yunel Escobar. He’s the kind of hitter that the Mets need, a high-average guy who doesn’t strike out much. He is also a rental who might come cheap at 1.1 WAR and might inject some energy into this offense.
- C, MIL, Jonathan Lucroy. Perhaps the most expensive acquisition here, Lucroy is also a rental, hitting .303 with power at a premium position. If the Mets are truly serious about 2016, he is an obvious move.
- 3B, OAK, Danny Valencia. Valencia will likely come cheap again, as he has fallen out of favor in Oakland as they start another youth movement. Valencia’s defense has hurt his WAR this year but the .300/.352/.483 batting line is no joke. He has one year of arbitration left.
- 1B, Joe Mauer. Will the Twins move him? Probably not. But if they did, the $23 million per year he is owed in 2017 and 2018 would likely make him cheap to acquire. Maybe he could platoon behind the plate with Travis d’Arnaud.
- LF, Ryan Braun. The most ambitious move of all, acquiring Braun would immediately make the Mets prohibitive favorites for the Wild Card. He’s hitting .313/.368/.507 and would likely not be too expensive to acquire given how much he is owed through 2020. The problem is, where do you play him?
If the Mets want to help the 2016 team, they can do so in a variety of ways. Only a few of the moves proposed above would require a significant investment of prospect talent. There are many others who I did not mention, like Rich Hill (too prospect-rich), Jay Bruce (just not good), and Aroldis Chapman (variety of reasons). It appears to be a buyer’s market, so there is no excuse for inaction.
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The clock is ticking on the 2016 season, and the Mets playoff odds continue to dwindle.
As fans, we cannot allow the team not to commit to a course of action. Either 2016 matters, or it does not. Remember, we have 34% chance of getting to the Wild Card game, so it’s really only a 17% chance of real playoffs (even less, if we face Kershaw). Are you willing to take a big risk for a less than one in four chance of making the NLDS? I don’t blame anyone who answers “yes” to that. But I would blame the organization is they stood pat and didn’t do anything.
Remember, despite the investment into Cespedes, the Mets are still 16th in MLB in payroll — and are 9th in attendance in the largest market, with a beautiful ballpark and strong television revenues. There are no excuses not to do what is necessary.
Go for it, or build for the future. Surrendering to fate is not an option.