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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Trading for Marcus Stroman caught us by surprise

Marcus Stroman looks back as a teammate makes

Marcus Stroman looks back as a teammate makes a catch for an out against the Indians during the first inning of a game Wednesday in Toronto. Credit: AP/Nathan Denette

Gotta hand it to Brodie Van Wagenen. After batting somewhere around the Mendoza Line in his first year running the Mets, and being repeatedly mocked for his “Come Get Us” winter campaign, the rookie GM didn’t fold on the season when everyone expected him to do so.

Instead, Van Wagenen doubled down.

As the industry speculated for weeks on new homes for the Mets’ coveted tandem of Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, the two prizes in a seller’s market for starters, Brodie pivoted with Sunday’s stunning trade for Marcus Stroman.

“I was definitely shocked,” Stroman said Monday during a conference call. To the degree that the Blue Jays' lone All-Star admittedly had a heated clubhouse exchange with team officials before his exit, a ruckus he claimed was due to frustration over how they handled his situation at the end.

After some time to cool off, Stroman insisted he was cool going to the Mets. The rest of us, however, still were puzzled by a move that defied conventional wisdom. Or logical thought. It was not the sort of thing a team sitting six games out of the second wild-card spot -- with six teams to hurdle -- typically does in the days leading up to the trade deadline.

This is when you cash out. Regroup, reboot and get an early jump on those December promises in Year Two. But in landing Stroman, the emotional, electric former Patchogue-Medford star, the Mets displayed their willingness to ride or die with Van Wagenen.

And this GM is not dead yet. Maybe not done, either. Depending on how desperate pitching-hungry contenders like the Astros, Twins, Braves, Yankees and Red Sox get before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. After snatching Stroman, the Mets increased their chances of making the playoffs to 14.8 percent, according to FanGraphs, and they cleared a spot for him Monday by sending Jason Vargas to the Phillies.

If Van Wagenen stopped at Stroman, and chose to see what his new super-rotation could do over the next two months, that could make for some very entertaining baseball. Who knows? Possibly even deliver some of those elusive “meaningful games in September,” the phrase that Fred Wilpon famously coined when he still made predictions way back in 2004.

But in the wake of the Vargas trade, I was told that the Mets would still be fielding offers on Syndergaard and Wheeler, as well as listening on closer Edwin Diaz, who should be a tough sell based on the huge price in prospects (along with the Cano cash) that Brodie paid over the winter. As of late Monday night, a source said the Mets remained “extremely busy” in trade conversations, though it was unclear if any deal had gained more traction recently.

The Wilpons hired Van Wagenen because they believed in the former agent’s sales pitch, that he could repair the Mets on the fly, and never dared to use the dreaded ‘R’ word, as in rebuild. But as this season went downhill fast, just as the one before it did under Sandy Alderson, Van Wagenen looked overmatched. The Mets were drowning amid his big offseason splashes, and few believed Brodie & Co. would be capable of making the right decisions at the trade deadline.

We’re still not convinced that trading for Stroman, while shedding two more of the Mets’ top pitching prospects in Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson, was necessarily the right call, either. If Van Wagenen ends up trading Syndergaard or Wheeler anyway, or further cripples the bullpen by sending Diaz to Boston or Hollywood, then what was the point?

But Van Wagenen’s here to get headlines, to generate attention for the Mets -- preferably positive, and for a winning team. If he’s going down, he’s going down swinging, and importing a local hero such as Stroman as his new hype man is a smart tactic.

“He sounded extremely excited, to be honest with you,” Stroman said. “He told me I’d be a perfect fit for the group of guys, for the city, for kind of everything. He made it seem like I’m going to be a Met for -- he didn’t make it seem like I’m going to be going anywhere for a bit.”

In other words, Stroman was given the impression he won’t be flipped to another team before the deadline. Beyond that, however, we’re pretty confident Van Wagenen hasn’t given it too much thought. Stroman doesn’t become a free agent until after next season, but that just makes him another controllable asset through 2020.

Back in December, the Mets were in win-now mode, and Van Wagenen promised that it would happen. But it didn’t, and we’re not exactly sure what this is. The Mets are no doubt better, and more fascinating with Stroman on board. The endgame, however, won’t be revealed until Wednesday’s deadline passes.

“If my energy rubs off on some of the guys, that would be amazing,” Stroman said. “I hope I can just add to what they have and kind of bring a spark. Hopefully, we can rattle off some wins here and make it interesting.”

Van Wagenen already has made it interesting, thanks to Stroman. It’s just a matter of how much more attention, and moves, the restless GM is willing to pursue.

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