Welcome to trade deadline season, when rumors fly, every game matters even more and — eventually — trades happen.
Now that the draft is over, front offices across MLB this week turned their focus to the Aug. 1 trade deadline. For some teams, the buyers, it is the last chance to make substantial roster improvements ahead of a hoped-for playoff run. For other clubs, the sellers, it represents an opportunity to squeeze some sort of future benefit out of a lost season.
Before the Mets’ 6-0 loss to the Dodgers on Friday night, their first game after the All-Star break, general manager Billy Eppler wasn’t quite ready to publicly say outright in which category his team will fall.
But the Mets’ play on the field — plus consistent boos from the Citi Field crowd — said plenty. They pushed themselves further toward a seller fate with another poor performance and a third consecutive loss.
They had zero hits after Brandon Nimmo’s double (initially ruled a home run) to lead off the bottom of the first. Justin Verlander allowed three runs in five innings, striking out six and walking six — his most in an outing since April 2017 (and one off his career high set in August 2006).
Eppler wants to give the players every chance to establish themselves as legitimate or even semi-legitimate contenders. They are not capitalizing on such patience.
“It [stinks]. This was not a good game of baseball in any facet,” Verlander said. “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t go on a roll. We played good baseball going into the break and I’ll be damned if one game is going to be the thing that sets off, oh, we sure can’t go on a run. That’s not it. We need to get back to that baseball.”
Francisco Lindor said: “We have a sense of urgency. We’re all pushing. We’re all trying. It’s one of those where you can only hope to get going at some point.”
Executives from other teams have called to express interest in acquiring the Mets’ players, Eppler said. He declined to elaborate.
“We have to be prepared and think about all the opportunities that could be there, but give this team a chance to keep playing,” Eppler said, reiterating a sentiment expressed by owner Steve Cohen last month. “So that’s where we’re at.”
The Mets (42-49) and their competitors are in a feeling-out phase — finding out which teams are looking to add what, which teams might make who available and so on.
“That’s kind of the biggest factor, understanding what can be done,” Eppler said. “It all starts there.”
Eppler’s phone might’ve started ringing again in the fifth inning Friday. Verlander hadn’t allowed a hit yet but walked three consecutive batters — the bottom third of the order for the Dodgers (52-38). All three scored, including two on Freddie Freeman’s double.
“I just lost my feel a little bit,” Verlander said. “Inexcusable. You can’t walk six guys and expect to win a ballgame or give your team a chance.”
On a roster that has extremely underperformed, the Mets have a handful of pieces that could help postseason-bound teams.
Outfielder Tommy Pham, who was back in the lineup Friday without missing a game despite experiencing a right groin issue on Sunday, is having one of the best seasons of his career and has proved particularly capable of hitting lefthanded pitchers. Reliever David Robertson, traded in July twice already in his career, is enjoying another strong season and has shown a willingness to pitch in any inning. Lefthander Brooks Raley has allowed two runs in the past two months.
Eppler said it was encouraging to see the Mets play well in the final week before the break but “there’s more work to do, no doubt.”
In deciding which way to go — buy or sell — he and Cohen consider a much larger sample size.
“You kind of look at all of it, but you do weigh things that have happened more this year,” Eppler said. “I don’t think you really look into, like, a week. But you have to honor some of the things that have happened recently, but you look at the season as a whole, you look at the track record.”
That sets up an important two weeks or so for the Mets, who after the Dodgers will face the White Sox, Red Sox, Yankees and Nationals leading up to the deadline.
Might the Mets devise a sort of buy-some, sell-some strategy with an eye toward 2024?
“I’ll be open to any opportunity,” Eppler said. “We’ll talk it through. We’ll look for an avenue to continue to add talent to the organization. Whether it’s short or long term, we have to evaluate it all.”