LAS VEGAS — If Brodie Van Wagenen learned anything from his former life as an agent, it’s that everyone has their price. And if they want a player bad enough, they’ll eventually pay it. Only now, as the Mets’ GM, he’s the one footing the bill. Or more accurately, the Mets’ organization as a whole.
But Van Wagenen, just a month into his Flushing gig, doesn’t seem all that worried about the cost. Once the GM set his sights on prying Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Mariners, he chose to ship a big chunk of the Mets’ future — a pair of first-round draft picks — to Seattle in order to close the deal.
Now we’re seeing it again with Van Wagenen’s pursuit of J.T. Realmuto, the Marlins’ prized catcher and the latest object of his affection. There are other perfectly good options available on the free-agent market, for varying amounts of cash, but Van Wagenen again seems locked in on his first choice, regardless of the toll in talent he may have to fork over to Miami.
“I think after last season, we need to get better at the catcher position,” Mickey Callaway said Tuesday. “And I know that Brodie is out there looking at external options to help our team improve. But we definitely need to get better.”
The Mets also were desperate for a top-shelf reliever (or two), which led Van Wagenen to target Diaz, an aggressive hunt that began at the GM meetings only days after the World Series ended. But rather than shop in a bullpen-heavy free-agent market, Van Wagenen took on Cano’s bloated contract and sacrificed Jared Kelenic — a jewel of the farm system — to get Diaz, one of the sport’s top closers. Some argued it was too big a price, but we praised the trade, as well as Van Wagenen’s determination to improve the Mets for 2019.
With Realmuto, however, it’s a little trickier. The Marlins want major-league ready talent in return and that’s going to hurt the Mets more in the short term. Again, Van Wagenen could simply persuade Jeff Wilpon to write a check for someone like Yasmani Grandal or Martin Maldonado in order to keep the better parts of the roster intact for the coming season.
Instead, Van Wagenen has been considering a wide variety of trade scenarios, the most palatable — in our view — being the idea of packaging either Brandon Nimmo or Michael Conforto with additional prospects. But when that discussion failed to move the needle, the Mets floated the possibility of sending Noah Syndergaard to the Yankees to get Realmuto in a three-way swap with the Marlins, a radical thought to say the least.
While a few Mets’ officials have praised Van Wagenen for his outside-the-box approach to upgrading the team, they privately admitted Syndergaard seems too critical to their success in 2019. Not only would Van Wagenen be removing a Cy-caliber No. 2 from the rotation next season, he’d be giving up three years of team control.
And sending Thor to the Bronx, where he could wind up helping the Yankees win a World Series sooner rather than later? That’s a bit much to stomach, regardless of how great Realmuto may be. And whatever goodwill Van Wagenen had managed to build since his arrival, that would be wiped out by having the fan-favorite Thor in pinstripes. No wonder the Syndergaard component of the three-way was downplayed by multiple sources a matter of hours after it initially surfaced late Tuesday night.
If the Marlins don’t bite on Nimmo or Conforto, that leaves the Mets with a Plan C that is likely to involve dealing Amed Rosario, who the Marlins reportedly have asked for in talks with Van Wagenen. Only a few days earlier, Rosario appeared to be a non-starter in the Realmuto conversation, and the Mets’ reluctance is understandable. Two years ago, Rosario was billed as a franchise shortstop, the organization’s top prospect and the second coming of Jose Reyes (the version from the first Flushing tour). Perhaps it’s taken a little longer than expected for Rosario to bloom, but he just turned 23, and was showing signs of improvement toward the end of last season, hitting .284 with a .731 OPS and 15 stolen bases over the final 54 games.
Is two years of Realmuto worth five years of Rosario? Ultimately, Van Wagenen probably says yes, perhaps thinking (as an agent) that he could sign the All-Star catcher to an extension to remain in Flushing beyond 2020. But now, it’s all about the price, and Van Wagenen hasn’t blinked yet.