The New York Mets entered 2017 poised to make a return to the postseason and maybe even another World Series run. Their starting pitching was healthy and led by Noah Syndergaard, who was coming into his own as the baseball’s newest superstar pitcher. Yoenis Cespedes was back in Flushing on a four-year deal, ensuring his Mets’ tenure would continue through 2020. The Washington Nationals had some questions entering the season, making a division championship a real possibility for the Mets in 2017.
After a hot start, the Mets have since faltered beyond expectations. Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Seth Lugo all have missed serious time with injuries, while most of the pitchers who have been healthy have struggled. Matt Harvey looks like he will never return to his old form, and Robert Gsellman and Zack Wheeler have looked terrible at times. Yoenis Cespedes missed over a month with a bad hamstring. Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera haven’t been nearly as productive as they were last season. Outside of Jerry Blevins, the bullpen has been an atrocity and a liability late in games. Off the field, Sandy Alderson and the front office seem reluctant to call up top prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, both of whom have been dominating the Pacific Coast League at Triple-A Las Vegas in 2017.
With the season seemingly a lost cause, the Mets would probably be better off if they turn their attention to improving for next season with the intention of competing. They even announced that they are actively trying to sell off players in walk-years like Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jerry Blevins, Jay Bruce, and Curtis Granderson. With a still-young pitching staff as well as some high-upside position players, New York could potentially make some noise in 2018. But when one takes a deeper look at their future roster, hopes for contention in 2018 seem dim, especially considering none of the aforementioned players are going to bring back special prospects that have the potential to become stars.
Quite frankly, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lucas Duda, and Curtis Granderson are relatively worthless on the trade market. Cabrera has told his agents that he wants to be traded now that the Mets are moving him to second base. He’s right to be mad that Jose Reyes is manning shortstop over him, even though the best shortstop in the organization plays in Las Vegas. But if Cabrera expects to play shortstop on a contending team, he’s out of his mind. His defense has deteriorated to well below-average levels, and he hasn’t hit nearly as well as he did last year. Lucas Duda may have some value as a buy-low option for contenders, but if Eric Hosmer, Yonder Alonso, and Logan Morrison are available, clubs will turn their attention to the first basemen who carry a higher price and greater ability. Granderson’s salary will drive teams away, and the Mets making him a reserve didn’t do his trade value any favors.
Bruce has had a really nice year thus far, hitting 19 home runs and batting .268, which is well above his career average. Bruce can also play either corner outfield position as well as some first base, increasing his value even more. However, Bruce was virtually free in the offseason when the Mets tried to dump him. His value now has gone up for sure, but it’s not as high as the Mets may think. Neil Walker could be a nice offensive upgrade at second base for a contender, but his back surgery last season could cause concerns. Jerry Blevins may be the most valuable trade chip the Mets have. Blevins has 36 strikeouts in 24.1 innings while keeping his ERA at 2.22. He carries a $7,000,000 team option for 2018, which could make him more attractive to other teams since he could be retained. Relievers are always in high demand come July, so Blevins could bring back a worthwhile prospect.
The problem is that with just Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Travis d’Arnaud, and Juan Lagares as the only position players under contract for next season, the Mets have so many holes to fill with only so many players. Amed Rosario will take over at shortstop, and Dominic Smith will do the same at first. With any prospect, though, there is no guarantee of success at the Major League level. As highly touted as Rosario is, his numbers in Triple-A are inflated due to the offense-friendly nature of the Pacific Coast League. If the Mets are lucky, one of the two will reach their full potential. Unforeseen injuries could also cause the Mets to change their plans.
Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom may be reliable. But can the Mets really trust Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, or Robert Gsellman? Will the bullpen be dependable next year, or will it fail at every chance as it has in 2017?
Right now, the Mets have more questions towards 2018 than answers. Trading the likes of Bruce, Blevins, Cabrera, Duda, Walker, and Granderson is a good start to bolster the farm system and prepare to contend in the future. The truth is, however, that a makeover isn’t going to be enough. The Mets are in need of a full rebuild.
There is some sort of foundation in Queens, but just how strong is it? Yoenis Cespedes is a still a big bat, but he constantly lands on the DL. Michael Conforto surged through the first two months of 2017, seemingly assuring the Mets that his dreadful 2016 campaign was a fluke. But now he’s starting to struggle offensively, losing plate discipline and chasing offspeed pitches down in the zone exactly like he did last year. Travis d’Arnaud and Juan Lagares are both injury-prone, and they don’t exactly light it up offensively when they’re healthy.
As for the pitching, Matt Harvey is a lost cause. A change of scenery may be what he needs, or perhaps his career is essentially over no matter where he pitches. Zack Wheeler teased the Mets with a few solid outings this year, but his overall incompetence shouldn’t make them optimistic. Steven Matz might be made of glass with all of the injuries he has fallen victim to. As I mentioned earlier, they’ve got Syndergaard and deGrom to lean on, but that’s it. The relief corps will be in shambles after Blevins and Reed are gone, and Jeurys Familia may never be the elite closer he was just two years ago.
It pains me to say it, but the Mets may want to listen on more than just their players entering free agency. If the Mets really want to win in the coming years, they ought to take calls on Jacob deGrom, Michael Conforto, and maybe even Noah Syndergaard.
deGrom would be a huge commodity on the trade market this summer should he become available. Since debuting in 2014, deGrom has a 2.90 ERA and 605 strikeouts. In four career postseason starts, he owns a 2.88 ERA, and the Mets won three of the four games he started. His successful return from surgery this season should further entice teams in trade talks. deGrom still has three years of arbitration remaining before he becomes a free agent, so he would be a long-term ace for potential suitors. Trading deGrom wouldn’t sit well with the Mets’ fanbase, but the return for a pitcher of his caliber could seriously strengthen the farm system. The Astros have already been linked to a potential deGrom deal. Odds are that the Rockies, Red Sox, and Dodgers would also have interest in the 29 year-old.
Michael Conforto reestablished his value with a tremendous start to his 2017 season. Through the first two months of the campaign, he hit .316 with 13 home runs, stealing the show in the Big Apple. Since the calendar turned to June, though, Conforto has slumped en route to a sub-.200 average and a strikeout per game. He’s been chasing breaking balls out of the zone, which was his biggest problem last year. Maybe Conforto can fix the problem, but it has the look of a chronic habit that he may not be able to break. If that’s the case, his long-term projection as a hitter may not be what it appears, and the Mets would be wise to sell high on him. He hasn’t even hit arbitration yet, so teams would be lining up to trade for him. Conforto would bring back at least two major prospects with high potential for stardom. That would just be the surface of a package for the future all-star, which would be a great return on a player who is anything but a certainty.
While Noah Syndergaard is by far the least likely player who would be traded on the roster, the Mets should at least take calls on “Thor”. Trading Syndergaard would totally shift the team into a rebuilding phase, but moving their ace could put their rebuild into hyper-drive. Syndergaard would reel in a package greater than the one the Chicago White Sox received for Chris Sale last offseason. Chicago’s haul included two top-thirty consensus prospects in Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada, the latter of whom ranks as the top prospect in the game. The one team in contention that could swing the deal would be the New York Yankees, making any trade almost automatically impossible. But if Brian Cashman was to offer Gleyber Torres, Dustin Fowler, Chance Adams, Jorge Mateo, and Tyler Wade for Syndergaard, Sandy Alderson would have to consider at the very least. Syndergaard is the type of player who could carry a franchise, and a contender looking to win now may be willing to sacrifice the future of their franchise in order to obtain his services.
In baseball, every team has one common goal: Win the World Series. That’s what every organization is trying to do. The last three World Series champions were products of rebuilds that took years to payoff. The Giants rebuilt through the draft in the late 2000’s and wound up with a dynasty. The Royals waited for Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar to develop before winning their first World Series in thirty years. Theo Epstein tore down the Cubs, and built them back up into the championship team the city of Chicago had been dying to see for over 108 years. Can the Mets make the playoffs in the next few years? Of course they can, especially with some of the young talent they have. But this team isn’t built to win a World Series in the next three years, and the likes of Syndergaard, deGrom, and Conforto will be walking out the door around that time. Trading stars like them is a move that turns the fan base against the organization. But when teams win championships, the fans forget about the trades that broke their hearts. If the Mets want to win their first World Series since 1986, they have to start from the ground floor yet again.