Regardless of where you sit on this polarizing blockbuster deal by the Mets, there are two irrefutable facts we can all agree on.
The first is that Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz are significantly better players than Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak. Cool with that? Great.
The second is that Opening Day is about four months away. So if you consider the Cano/ Diaz trade as merely the first step in Brodie Van Wagenen’s winter renovation of the Mets, as we do, he still has plenty of time to address other areas of need, specifically catcher and another top-shelf reliever, with possibly an upgrade or two at the corner infield spots or centerfield.
As skeptical as we’ve been about the Mets, and deservedly so after a pair of 70-something-win seasons, to think that Van Wagenen isn’t going to further enhance this roster — after already shipping a sizable chunk of the future to the Pacific Northwest — would be lunacy.
The Wilpons surely realize the importance of giving their new GM the opportunity to create a fresh look for the franchise, and Van Wagenen has told us many times that his goal is to be a contender in 2019.
Adding Cano and Diaz to shore up two glaring weaknesses, with the immediate plan of being competitive next season in a rapidly improving NL East, makes sense. That’s the mission here — and one that should just be getting started.
The other details of this trade are things the Mets have chosen to worry about later, and there certainly is a chance that they ultimately will be haunted by them. How many good seasons can they extract from Cano, who, at 36 and with a full no-trade clause, is anchored in Flushing through 2023? Dealing last year’s top pick, Jarred Kelenic — described Monday by Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto as a “true five-tool player with a very high ceiling” — will sting seriously if he turns out to be the next Bryce Harper.
The other prospects in the package, Gerson Bautista and Freeport’s Justin Dunn, have potential, but they’re not likely to burn the Mets as badly as Kelenic might. Still, Van Wagenen is choosing to prioritize 2019, and Kelenic wouldn’t have helped the Mets beat the Phillies and Braves next season.
Their window with their Fab Four starters is gradually closing, with Zack Wheeler heading into his walk year. Van Wagenen could decide to trade Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard to bolster other spots, and MLB.com reported this weekend that the Mets have talked to the Indians about Corey Kluber, a former pupil of Mickey Callaway’s. With two of their top trade chips now Seattle’s property, the Mets probably would have to include some inexpensive major-league talent in a Kluber deal, and then depth could become a problem.
Restocking the farm system, however, will have to wait. Van Wagenen’s motivation is clear, as is the Wilpons’ with their endorsement of this seismic swap.
By getting $20 million from Seattle and dumping the dead-wood contracts of Bruce and Swarzak ($37 million), that knocks down the total commitment to Cano to about $63 million over five years, or $12.6 million annually. Doesn’t sound quite so onerous when broken down like that.
Taking on Cano is part of the toll that had to be paid for Diaz, and the Mets truly would be foolish to acquire an elite closer if they don’t intend to win in 2019. The Wilpons still need to bend enough with the checkbook to take advantage of the high-quality bullpen help available on the free-agent market, and they should have additional funds coming from their insurance policies on David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes, out indefinitely after double-heel surgery. COO Jeff Wilpon has stated a reluctance to reinvest the Wright payout, but now that the situation has been resolved, whatever is left from that contract, or refunded on Cespedes, should be put at Van Wagenen’s disposal.
Based on this move, the agent-turned-GM won’t be afraid to use it. As much as Van Wagenen may have helped Dipoto’s teardown efforts in Seattle, he’s got a more ambitious vision for Citi Field in 2019, and a far quicker timetable. There’s no disputing that the Mets are closer to it now than they were a week ago.