by Paul West
In a move which ran contrary to what seemed to be prevailing opinion, the Mets have–for now, at least–declared themselves ‘buyers’ at the trade deadline, acquiring Marcus Stroman from the Toronto Blue Jays for two minor league prospects. Stroman holds the American League’s fifth-best ERA, at 2.96, despite pitching in the American League East; and he, along with the Mets’ own Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, was considered one of the deadline’s most sought-after starting pitchers. Long Island born and just 28, he once battled fellow Long Islander–and, yet again, fellow Met–Steven Matz–in front of scores of MLB scouts, in what’s been called Long Island’s ‘most notable high school baseball game in recent memory.’ He threw six no-hit innings in the game which clinched Team USA’s first World Baseball Classic title. He seems ecstatic to be back in New York, and his addition to an already loaded rotation means the Mets now have a) arguably the most talented starting rotation in baseball again and b) as Jeff Passan tweeted, ‘hijacked the market’ for starting pitching.
So, are they going for it? Interestingly enough, nobody seems to be sure.
The Mets are a mere six games behind the second Wild Card position, and the National League Wild Card race is a logjam of highly flawed, jekyll-hyde teams who are certainly vulnerable to be caught. Their next three series are against opponents who are, at least on paper, weak–including the Pittsburgh Pirates, whom they decisively swept this weekend. With the 69-38 Los Angeles Dodgers looming well above the fray (for now, at least), the NL’s only other 60-win team is the Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, the Wild Card race is a three-way tie, with two teams tied for a game back, two more teams within a game and a half of the latter duo…and the Mets, six back but still eight teams deep, and therein lies the rub.
As we’ve seen countless times before, the last week of July is far too early for postseason-related declarations. The Mets are, on paper, as talented as nearly any of the teams in front of them–and they just got more talented, while cutting off competitors’ access to one of the best available arms. They’re capable of tremendous scoring outbursts, and not only by way of the long ball; and their recently bolstered rotation has performed well since the All Star break, including the once maligned Jason Vargas. They have, on paper at least, an elite closer in Edwin Diaz, and their bullpen is showing signs of recovery from its seemingly endless early summer swoon. They have the probable Rookie of the Year in Pete Alonso, and the versatile Jeff McNeil looks like one of the game’s best so-called ‘pure hitters.’ Their most glaring weakness–and this, along with the number of teams they’re chasing, is what should give pause to even the most optimistic fan–is their sub-par defense, which is maybe the last thing you’d want to say about a team whose core was built around pitching. Stroman doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, either; and his high ground ball rate, which would be a boon in front of a more mobile and reliable defense, could be an issue with the erratic Amed Rosario and the range-deficient Robinson Cano up the middle.
Still, the Mets have suddenly embarked on what might be their first true hot streak since the early weeks of the season. Even curmudgeonly Keith Hernandez tweeted that most hopeful of phrases, ‘lots of season left,’ the morning after the Mets took the first two from the Pirates. You could make an argument for keeping the rotation intact, moving Vargas into long relief, and seeing if the hot streak holds. The new single deadline arrangement prevents teams from stalling and hedging until mid-August, and it’s almost certain that one or two of the half-dozen in front of the Mets will stumble and/or decide to sell. Even if they wait until the offseason, the so-called controllability of their trade chips won’t change drastically enough to crush their trade value; someone will want to gamble on Thor’s ludicrous talent and high ceiling. Meanwhile, the prospects the Mets gave Toronto–pitchers Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson–are well regarded, but not exactly eye-popping. Given the volatility of pitching prospects, it’s hard to argue Stroman wasn’t worth whom they gave up. Meanwhile, they can still consider moving Cano or Todd Frazier at the deadline, perhaps for another diamond-in-the-rough prospect like twelfth-rounder McNeil, second-rounder Alonso, or ninth-round pick Jacob deGrom.
With a Cy Young winner atop an incredibly talented rotation, along with an explosive offense and players with pressure-game experience, the Mets look exactly like one of those ‘you don’t wanna face them if they sneak into the playoffs’ teams. They just have to get there. With today’s market-cornering move, they’ve given themselves reason to think it’s worth a shot.