Mets general manager Billy Eppler at spring training camp, Monday...

Mets general manager Billy Eppler at spring training camp, Monday March 14, 2022 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

 WASHINGTON

The closest the Mets got to Juan Soto on Monday as the trade deadline clock ticked down was Starling Marte’s exuberant pregame embrace with the Nationals’ slugging prodigy during batting practice.

Marte, you may recall, was Soto’s unofficial cheerleader-coach for last month’s Home Run Derby, which he won at Dodger Stadium. And with Soto stunningly on the trade block, the running joke was Marte acting as a recruiter for the Mets.

Soto did go deep Monday off Max Scherzer in what potentially could be his final game with the Nationals. The crowd even gave him a standing ovation in the eighth inning as an appreciative farewell, just in case. But the overwhelming number of Mets fans in the building had the most to cheer about as Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso homered to help make Scherzer more comfortable through an occasionally bumpy 6 2⁄3-inning stint that led to a 7-3 win, the team’s seventh straight.

“Throw the records out — just look at how we play baseball,” Scherzer said. “We’re a good team, we know that, but it takes a major-league effort, every single day, in order to beat any opponent. As good as it’s been this year, how we’ve played, it doesn’t mean anything yet because it’s just now getting started.”

And with time getting short before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trade deadline, the Mets have more work to do outside the lines, eyeing some bullpen upgrades and perhaps an offensive jolt, with Willson Contreras and J.D. Martinez still very much available as of late Monday night.

Elsewhere, there had been considerable movement earlier in the day, especially in the Bronx, as the Yankees grabbed A’s starter Frankie Montas — a consolation prize to Luis Castillo. Of more interest from a Mets perspective was seeing the Yankees also acquire reliever Lou Trivino in that Montas package, and the Cubs’ Scott Effross a few hours before that.

 

Otherwise, the Astros picked up two players who also would have been useful additions in Flushing — Orioles DH Trey Mancini and Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez. The question for the Mets and second-year owner Steve Cohen was coming down to the cost of solidifying their standing as the first-place team in the NL East and polishing their October hopes. As of Monday evening, that price in minor-league chips seemed too high for Contreras and Martinez, or their targeted relievers such as the Cubs’ David Robertson, the Tigers’ Andrew Chafin and old friend Aaron Loup of the Angels.

But are the Mets thinking big enough? Before Monday’s flurry of activity, they had been among the most active deadline-dealers in pulling off last week’s trades for Daniel Vogelbach and Tyler Naquin, essentially a pair of limited-role players who added more depth to their roster. They should make the Mets better.

It’s a mistake, however, for the Mets to believe that merely improving on the margins is taking their best swing at a World Series. Sitting on their impactful winter acquisitions can’t be considered all-in behavior.

“I keep in mind that we did add big pieces,” Buck Showalter said before the game. “We did add [Scherzer], [Marte], Eduardo [Escobar] and [Mark] Canha. We’ve done that. We’ve added Ottavino. I’m very appreciative. I’m very lucky to have that type of support. You get these precious commodities given to you, and assets to the fans and organization, you want to make sure they’re able to put their best foot forward.”

And that’s really the point. Showalter obviously has reason to be grateful, getting the chance to manage a $280 million team in his return to the majors after a three-year absence. But increasing the odds of cashing in on Cohen’s money spent in the offseason is the responsible thing to do with these Mets (65-37) winning at a pace eclipsed only by the legendary 1986 world champs.

Just look at the first two games of this Nationals series, with Scherzer going Monday night and Jacob deGrom following him Tuesday with his first start for the Mets in 13 months. How often does a team get to have five Cy Young Awards at the front end of their rotation? And with deGrom determined to opt out of his $137.5 million contract when the season is over, there’s a decent chance this could be the last time the two aces will team up for the Mets.

When deGrom throws that first pitch, an hour after Tuesday’s deadline, he’ll be welcomed back as one of the best midseason pickups in baseball history. For the Mets’ sake, he can’t be the only one. Not this time, and not in what already is shaping up to be a special year.