The competitive portion of their season long over, the Mets have abandoned the pretense of being a hot streak away from contention, of an injured player or two returning to make all the difference, of those postseason hopes harbored all winter.
And so, as they maneuver through the second half starting with a Yankees series that opens Friday, the rest of 2018 will be mostly about 2019 for the Mets.
“We hope to start to see a little bit more of the team we put together and see what that looks like,” said assistant general manager John Ricco, who along with special assistants to the GM J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya is running the team’s baseball operations department during Sandy Alderson’s leave of absence. “What we’re looking to do in the second half is get some answers about what kind of club we have heading into 2019.”
That train of thought suggests that the Mets (39-55), who are tied for last in the NL East, aren’t quite sure of the true quality of their team. Yoenis Cespedes has been out since mid-May. Noah Syndergaard recently missed seven weeks. Jay Bruce hasn’t played in a month, and the Mets’ top three other free-agent additions — Todd Frazier (twice), Jason Vargas (twice), Anthony Swarzak — all have also spent time on the disabled list: All those roster projections from March have rarely, if ever, been reality. Such is the nature of baseball’s war-of-attrition season.
Injury-induced uncertainty leaves the Mets in a tricky spot. They say they plan to contend next season. Their path to such drastic improvement isn’t clear. The most immediate avenue will be deals leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
The Mets have many candidates, including Jeurys Familia and Asdrubal Cabrera. Complicating any potential move — particularly bigger ones, from Wilmer Flores (under team control through next season) on up to Jacob deGrom (a leading Cy Young Award candidate) — is the front-office dynamic, with nobody in particular in charge. Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said last month that he is the ultimate decider on any move presented to him by the front office.
Under their current arrangement, the Mets have no named head of baseball operations. Ricco, Ricciardi and Minaya all talk regularly — including twice-daily conference calls with all three, Ricco said — and there aren’t any signs that the Mets are close yet to a deal.
“Right now, there’s nothing hot,” Ricco said Tuesday afternoon. “Coming out of the break, I think you’ll see the whole trade market heat up.”
Trades will make room for the Mets to give looks to younger players who could be a part of the future. The Mets, however, are considering demoting 23-year-old first baseman Dominic Smith, who has played poorly in a part-time role in the majors, to Triple-A Las Vegas.
“He still definitely has some developing [to do],” Ricco said. “Whether that happens up here or down in the minors, we view him as a piece of the future.
“It’s just a matter of where you view him in his development. if there’s nothing left for him to prove in Triple A, at a certain point we felt that of [Amed] Rosario. Dom in Triple A this year was not killing it. That’s why the door is still open as to whether there’s still work for him to do down there offensively.”
All of the 2019 talk isn’t meant to discount the on-field effort. To be clear, the Mets in the clubhouse will try to win every day, maintaining a micro approach as the front office considers the macro (with manager Mickey Callaway and the coaching staff balancing both). There is something to be said about salvaging pride by avoiding last place in the division, not to mention the league, as well as the idea that a strong second half can teach a team something about itself (a la the 2017 Phillies upping their game last summer before a big offseason and big first half this year).
“I’d like to see this team come together and put the first half away and see what we can do in the second half,” Brandon Nimmo said. “There’s a lot of talent in this room. People talk about guys coming off the DL and whatnot, but I think there’s a lot of talent in this room regardless.”
Callaway wants to see the Mets play more fundamentally sound baseball.
“We have to come out and play the game in a better way — fundamentally, situationally,” Callaway said Sunday, stressing one of his themes from spring training. “We have to be able to hit a sac fly to get the guy in from third. We have to be able to do all the small things that it takes to win. I think our team can win games if we do the small things. But we have to really focus on those small things.”