WASHINGTON -- The Mets must be planning for a heck of a future in Flushing. And by future, we don’t mean this October.
Judging by the way they clung to their prospects at Tuesday’s trade deadline, and failed to make significant upgrades on the scale of their National League adversaries, the Mets are putting a ton of faith in this current roster.
Starting with Tuesday night’s return of Jacob deGrom.
No other team added a two-time Cy Young winner, and as long as deGrom is healthy, you could argue the Mets improved their World Series chances more than anyone by having him back on the mound.
As for the actual trades executed Tuesday by GM Billy Eppler, let’s put it this way: he’s got to hope that deGrom turns out to be, well, deGrom over these next two-plus months. At first glance, deGrom looked the same, with a fastball that averaged 99.2 mph (101.6 max) over a five-inning stint that included three hits, one run and six strikeouts. But he also wasn’t a difference-maker, as the Mets’ bullpen was ripped for three homers in a 5-1 loss to the depleted Nationals.
Post-deadline, Eppler spoke on Zoom about “sustainability” -- i.e., not dealing away young potential building blocks for what he viewed as “marginal gains.” To the extent Eppler put percentages on how much some of the bigger swings would have cost the Mets down the line, like discussing mortgage-rate hikes.
For the Mets, this deadline wasn’t about names like Juan Soto, Willson Contreras or J.D. Martinez. Eppler’s focus was on Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, Ronny Mauricio, Alex Ramirez and Mark Vientos. But the GM didn’t stop there. He put a fence around most of the farm system, which essentially took the Mets out of any bidding wars.
“We were able to do everything we wanted to do,” Eppler said, “and stay out of the inside of our -- if I'm speaking in technicalities -- top 19 prospects.”
Nineteen? No wonder Eppler wound up with Darin Ruf and Mychal Givens when the clock struck 6 p.m. Tuesday. Technically, the Mets took care of a few items on their shopping list. First they replaced J.D. Davis, their underperforming righty DH, by sending him to the Giants for Ruf -- basically the guy Davis was supposed to be this season, with a more useful glove. Ruf has an .886 OPS against lefties this season, which makes him a nice fit in the DH platoon with Daniel Vogelbach, whom the Mets acquired last week for that purpose.
Ruf was one checked box. The other came a few hours later when Eppler plucked reliever Givens from the Cubs, shortly before the deadline. The Mets had to get bullpen help, so as the minutes ticked down, the presumption was someone would materialize. It didn’t help that the Phillies landed David Robertson, the closer-caliber arm with New York experience, or that the Braves nabbed Raisel Iglesias, who still had three years and $48 million remaining on his Angels deal.
Even with Givens in the fold, there had to be another bullpen arm coming, right? Like maybe a lefty such as Andrew Chafin? Nope. That was it, and this Cubs reliever didn’t come attached to Contreras, either (he stunningly wound up staying on the North Side, despite his pending free agency).
Here’s the thing. Ruf and Givens should be serviceable players down the stretch. They fill needs. By the time deGrom stepped to the mound Tuesday night, the Mets were a better team than they were that morning.
But as deadline hauls go, this was underwhelming in the context of the Cohen Mets, a $280-million team, currently leading the NL East, and in the midst of their greatest regular season since the ’86 champs. Apparently, this historic run -- featuring a roster filled with key free agents at year’s end -- still did not allow the Mets to deviate from their franchise-building philosophy.
On that November day Cohen’s purchase of the Mets became official -- a top three moment for the team’s fan base, up there with the ’69 and ’86 rings -- the new owner spoke about creating a franchise with sustainable success, built on a solid infrastructure and deep reserves of young talent. Two years later, Eppler dusted off that mission statement Tuesday in explaining the team’s modest deadline activity.
“One of the things we've talked about here is just really trying to maintain that organizational discipline,” Eppler said, “to crush any urge to make a snap or an impulsive decision and give up large amounts of future World Series odds or expectation in exchange for just some marginal gains right now.”
Something else Cohen said when taking over the Mets back in 2020: he pledged to bring a championship to Flushing in three to five years. This is only Year Two, but who knows if it might be the best shot of that span? The Mets improved some Tuesday, but not as much as their divisional rivals in Atlanta or Philly. Or anywhere close to the Padres, a potential October roadblock that emptied their top-prospect ranks for Soto, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury.
Those 19 prospects aren’t going to make much of a difference against any of them.