CHICAGO — The Mets did not make any trades Wednesday.
Noah Syndergaard is still a Met. Edwin Diaz is still a Met. Even Zack Wheeler, a pending free agent who was the player most likely to be dealt in recent days, is still a Met.
Instead of embracing their purported status as sellers ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline Wednesday, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and his inner circle of Mets decision-makers decided to stand pat after the deals they made Sunday and Monday, which in effect replaced Jason Vargas with Marcus Stroman in the rotation. Acquiring Stroman, which Van Wagenen said the Mets had discussed with the Blue Jays since the offseason, also plugs one of the Mets’ would-be rotation holes for 2020, Stroman’s last season before he is scheduled to hit free agency.
“We weren't going to move key pieces to our club unless we felt like we were going to be better positioned as we look at the long-term outlook of the team and the franchise,” Van Wagenen said. “We didn't find those opportunities, and we frankly weren't seeking those opportunities out. Those opportunities were being presented to us on an hourly basis, but we maintained our focus.”
Not quite sellers, the Mets didn’t exactly act as buyers, either, caught in the purgatory of fringe contention. Van Wagenen, manager Mickey Callaway and several players spoke of trying to make an improbable run at a wild-card spot the next two months, but the front office chose not to provide reinforcements for any of the Mets’ weak spots, such as the bullpen or the bench.
Van Wagenen said the Mets did, however, seek “to be exhaustive in our evaluation of the marketplace."
“We felt like getting the starting pitcher in this marketplace was going to be more valuable than getting the relief pitchers,” said Van Wagenen, who did not elaborate on why that was an either-or proposition. “Our bullpen has had its challenges at times, but we believe in the guys that are there, and we’re glad that we can go forward with the team we had.
“We had a lot of conversations about some of those different supplementary pieces. For us, we weren't ultimately interested in rental players. We were interested in moves that could impact us in 2019 but also in 2020.”
The Mets keeping Wheeler registered as the biggest surprise. Traded to the Mets in 2011 and nearly traded by the Mets on multiple occasions since, Wheeler had been prepared for another move, but it never came. He said Van Wagenen called shortly after the deadline passed to tell him he was staying.
“I’m glad it’s in the past, I’m glad it’s over with,” Wheeler said. “It was all there for it to happen and it just didn’t happen. I was ready for it. Especially with me being a free agent after the year, I knew it might happen. I was ready, but it just didn’t.”
The next question for Wheeler and the Mets: Will they make him a qualifying offer? If yes, Wheeler can accept the one-year contract for about $18 million. Or he can hit free agency knowing the team that signs him will have to give the Mets a draft pick as compensation. Van Wagenen said that dynamic did not factor into the Mets’ decision to hold Wheeler.
MLB’s tweaked trade rules — doing away with the August waiver process and Aug. 31 trade deadline — turned Wednesday into a true deadline. Under the previous setup, the Mets could have traded, say, Wheeler or free-agent-to-be Todd Frazier if they fell out of contention in the coming weeks. Starting this year, they don’t have that option.
And so the Mets will move forward with their new and improved rotation of Wheeler, Syndergaard, Stroman, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz.
“This team has shown resiliency, this team has earned the right to now go play meaningful games over the course of the next two months,” Van Wagenen said. “I know they're excited to go do that.”