The Mets traded David Robertson, their highest-performing reliever, to the Marlins late Thursday night, a transactional acknowledgment from the front office that this season has been a stunning failure and the first in what could be a series of moves breaking up the roster prior to the trade deadline next week.
The return from Miami was a pair of teenaged prospects, infielder Marco Vargas and catcher Ronald Hernandez, who have played this season at the lowest domestic level of the minor leagues.
In dealing Robertson, their closer in the absence of the injured Edwin Diaz, the Mets lose a beacon of late-inning bullpen stability, creating questions about how to backfill those crucial innings.
But in a bigger-picture way, the answers don’t matter. After beating the Nationals, 2-1, on Thursday as they finalized the Robertson deal, the Mets are 48-54 and seven games out of a playoff spot. Results moving forward matter less than trying to squeeze something out of a lost season.
All they have to show for boasting biggest payroll in the history of baseball — an estimated $377 million as of Opening Day, plus penalties for spending so much — is a newfound status as trade-deadline sellers.
“It’s not where we want to be. It’s not what we want to be doing,” general manager Billy Eppler said early Friday morning outside the Mets’ clubhouse. “We’re trying to balance the best interests of the team but also have to try to balance the best interests of the organization . . . We didn’t have visions of this at the start of the season.”
Robertson said: “There’s a ton of talent in this clubhouse. We just weren’t able to put it together. When you can’t put it together in time, GMs and owners have to make decisions. I was one of those decisions and I got moved.”
The deadline to trade players is 6 p.m. Tuesday. Eppler said there are “a number of clubs calling and checking in regularly” about acquiring other Mets. Tommy Pham, Brooks Raley and Mark Canha — all in the last guaranteed year of their contracts — are among the remaining candidates to go.
Over the weekend, Robertson had said he didn’t want to get traded, though he knew it was possible or even probable. He was warming up in the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth as the Mets threatened to take a lead Thursday. Then the skies opened up, forcing a rain delay of 1 hour and 37 minutes — and affording the Marlins a window to make what Eppler described as a final offer for Robertson, before he got into another game.
When play resumed and the Mets went ahead on Canha’s sacrifice fly, Raley entered for the save. Eppler had told manager Buck Showalter that a Robertson trade was close, so don’t use him.
“This was personally pretty tough on me,” said Eppler, who has known Robertson for almost two decades. “I’m glad he’s moving into a situation where he’s going to be in a race and have another crack at the postseason.”
Robertson said: “I figured I would be moved. I didn’t know where. Really didn’t have an idea of where, so it was kind of a shock. It’s part of this game.”
The Marlins, long a laughingstock of the NL East, have one of the smallest payrolls in the majors. But they are 55-48, a half-game back of a wild-card berth.
Robertson’s departure left the rest of the Mets trying to wrap their minds around their new reality.
“It’s setting in that, OK, this is the path that we’re going down,” Brandon Nimmo said. “That’s never an easy pill to swallow, but you can’t sit here and say that you were completely blindsided by it. You had to know that this was a possibility. You were just hoping that we could do enough in this last week and a half or so to maybe give it a shot.”
Canha said: “I think we were all expecting (trades) at some point, so not surprising. Still hurts though . . . I wasn’t really hopeful for (a last-chance run to contention) . . . We probably should’ve played better earlier if we wanted to be buyers instead of sellers.”
Robertson joined the Mets on a one-year, $10 million contract in December. They thought he would be the eighth-inning setup man for Diaz on a team that had a chance at an NL East title and more.
“I’ve had a great time there,” Robertson said. “This is New York. Any time you’re playing here, you get the big crowds under the big lights — we’ve had some exciting times here and I’ve had some great memories with these guys. I’m going to miss them a lot. But I’ll be facing them (in September), which is really weird.”