The Mets will be buyers at the Aug. 2 trade deadline — no shock there — but it’s becoming increasingly clear that they plan to approach the process with the aplomb of a kid flush with his first paycheck: no firm shopping list, just the goal to get whatever they can to make the team better down the stretch.
“One thing that I’ve learned in my time with Steve [Cohen] so far it’s that he’s opportunistic, so if I can take him opportunities and present the why behind it, the why it makes sense, he’s signed off on everything so far,” general manager Billy Eppler said Saturday, his words a far cry from the penny-pinching Mets of years past. “He likes to know what the market looks like and he likes to be aware of opportunity.”
The Mets have a few areas of concern, and probably more than they had before the beginning of June, a month when their offense wilted, their bullpen proved sometimes uneven and their rotation dealt with both injury and inconsistency. They still managed a winning record (13-12) but hit only .232 and pitched to a 4.32 ERA.
They likely need another big bat to consistently DH and protect Pete Alonso in the middle of the order, better middle relief and potentially even another arm for a rotation whose best pitchers will be Jacob deGrom, who hasn’t pitched since last year, and 37-year-old Max Scherzer, who’ll be managing his oblique injury down the stretch.
They’ve gotten almost no production out of the catcher position, and though they have a tantalizing prospect in Francisco Alvarez, he’s only 20 and still in Double-A. Expecting him to make a jump to the majors and quickly play a significant role isn’t reasonable.
“I would like to be an equal-opportunity buyer, so whether that’s something that will help with run prevention, great,” Eppler said. “If it helps with run production, great. Let’s try to grow those numbers as far apart as we can and be open to anything. I don’t want to be beholden to a shopping list, so to speak, because let’s say you thought we needed ‘x,’ or people thought we needed ‘x’ but ‘y’ came along and ‘y’ was so much better than ‘x.’ Take ‘y,’ right? We’re going to look for things that are going to help with run prevention, run production more than a particular type.”
Going into Saturday, the Mets had a plus-58 run differential, good for seventh best in the majors, but a far cry from first (the Yankees have scored 150 more runs than they’ve allowed). They had a plus-72 run differential before June and have struggled in the last few weeks against shutdown pitching by the Padres and Astros.
In the absence of Tylor Megill, who won’t be back until mid-August at the earliest, along with deGrom and Scherzer, their rotation now has a 4.04 ERA, 14th in baseball.
Scherzer will be back Tuesday and deGrom will begin his rehab assignment in Port St. Lucie on Sunday, meaning that he’ll return by at least early August, barring re-injury or setback.
That still leaves plenty for Eppler to do, and Cohen hasn’t been shy with his payroll. It currently stands at $280 million, second only to the Dodgers. But the biggest names likely will require some good players in return. J.D. Davis and Dom Smith could be traded away, but front-line pitchers such as the A’s Frankie Montas and the Reds’ Luis Castillo, or a catcher such as Willson Contreras, stand to require considerable prospect packages. That’s where things get dodgy.
Asked if any prospect is off the table, Eppler pretty much said yes, with caveats.
“It’s hard to say without knowing the entire landscape because you don’t know what can come up, but I think there are a number of players that can be really difficult to wrestle away from us,” Eppler said. “I don’t like to live in absolutes so I don’t ever say the words never, but it’s really hard to envision some kind of scenario where you would consider those things.”
Alvarez probably is on that list and it’s a good bet that third baseman/outfielder Brett Baty is, too. Shortstop Ronny Mauricio is high on their prospect list, but the Mets also have Francisco Lindor manning that position for many years to come. It likely would take a lot for another team to coax away Mark Vientos, though it might not be impossible.
The Mets could pursue a less costly bat in Trey Mancini, who’s on a one-year deal with the Orioles.
Eppler added that talks between teams already have begun. “It’s just a lot of GMs in the yard walking around talking to each other and figuring out who’s going to go play together, I guess,” he said. “That’s kind of how it is. The initial conversations are ongoing.”