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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Why the Mets chose not to pack it in early

New York Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen

New York Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen speaks to the media prior to a game against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on May 20 in Queens. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Mets, upon waking up Wednesday morning, could have checked FanGraphs, noticed their 16.9-percent chance of making the playoffs (0.6 percent to win the World Series) and easily found takers for Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler or Edwin Diaz.

That’s how the system is supposed to work, right? Crunch the numbers, weigh the percentages, and when they’re not in your favor, swap your current assets for lottery tickets. Maybe those tickets pay off two or three years from now, or maybe never.

Theoretically, that’s probably the prudent thing to do. Why play a hand with such meager odds of winning?

But there’s been too much of that in baseball lately, whether it’s tanking entire seasons, or choosing to sell with a playoff spot still in sight. So we’ll give credit to the Mets for choosing to see this thing through over the next two months, after picking up Marcus Stroman, dumping Jason Vargas and otherwise standing pat through Wednesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline.

Was their deadline strategy brilliantly executed? Not quite. While it’s reasonable to expect Vargas to lose his mojo in Philly -- he has a 5.03 ERA on the road this season -- shipping him to a team you’re chasing for the wild card may backfire. Also, if the Mets truly were all in, they could have picked up some bullpen help. Plenty of relievers switched teams in the last 48 hours, notably to the Braves and Nats.

Think of it this way. What the Mets did or did not do at the deadline had less to do with pushing for the wild card than another equally important two-word goal: staying relevant.

As Sandy Alderson liked to say, this is the entertainment business. And Brodie Van Wagenen, in his relatively short term as GM, surely has been made fully aware of critical market factors such as ticket sales and TV ratings. That’s where Stroman comes in. The Mets timed his trade perfectly with the team’s five-game winning streak through the deadline, an impressive rebound that got them to within five games of the second wild-card spot (and five teams to jump).

Van Wagenen revealed Wednesday that he’d been on Stroman for a while, since the winter, and went as far as exchanging names with his Blue Jays counterpart, Ross Atkins, in a conversation that carried through spring training and into the season. There was a reason Brodie wanted the deal done Sunday, however.

“By adding Marcus to the equation early, it gave us the ability to see how our team did over the course of the last couple days,” Van Wagenen said. “And allowed us to survey the marketplace to make sure we put ourselves in a better position as we look to the 2019-20 offseason. It allowed us to kick-start that process while still capitalizing on what could be an exciting summer.”

Brodie’s comment sounds an awful lot like the Mets hadn’t fully decided on a plan of action as much as they’d want us to believe. It also makes me wonder just how close they came to possibly flipping Stroman if a team chose to overpay. That would have been awkward. The Mets set up a conference call with Stroman for 3 p.m Monday, and the team had displayed his No. 7 jersey shortly afterward on their social-media channels.

This is not a franchise with a history of always thinking stuff through, however, and Van Wagenen’s deadline maneuvering wasn’t all that different than his offseason blueprint. He went for the big splash with Stroman, and will figure out everything else later -- the qualifying offer to Wheeler, Noah’s longer-term future, whether Diaz can hack it in Flushing, restocking the farm system.

The rest can wait. Van Wagenen comes off like a hummingbird on Red Bull, so this is not a GM that lies awake at night fretting over how he’s going to pay this pumped-up rotation in 2020 and beyond. To him, the future is five minutes from now, and you can’t help but get the sense he’s making this up as he goes along.

Fortunately for Brodie, the resurgent Mets have given him a wave to ride, and the Stroman deal is his new surfboard. It’s probably why he didn’t risk any other deals that could have jeopardized that momentum.

“This team has shown resiliency,” Van Wagenen said. “This team has earned the right to now go play meaningful games over the course of the next two months.”

From a baseball perspective, it’s hard to argue with that. At this point, the best the Mets have to offer is meaningful.


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