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What we still don’t know concerning the Mets’ trade deadline

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I need to revisit the deal that brought Edwin Diaz to the Mets as a vehicle to debate the club’s first trade deadline with Billy Eppler as general manager.

There are three items to drill down upon:

1. I’m undecided if we were all the time this impatient as a society usually and in sports in specific or if social media/confrontational sports-talk shows conditioned us to race to the quickest hot takes, but trades do need time to totally gestate to see how they prove.

I direct this at myself, too, because I criticized the Mets multiple times for under-selling Jarred Kelenic and taking up the contract of Robinson Cano — a better case when Diaz was struggling.

2. Having said that, I still think the trade is just not some slam-dunk winner for the Mets (oh, how recency bias causes such shifts). What were the chance costs of taking up Cano’s money and trading Kelenic before he fully had established his minor league value?

Recently, on our podcast, “The Show with Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman,” Steve Cohen, in speaking about his 2023 budget, noted Cano continues to be on the Mets’ books for roughly $20 million next season. So the downside of the trade still can be felt because Cohen insinuated not even he can have a payroll that erases all sins with unlimited spending.

As well as, don’t consider Kelenic’s value today, which is way down after major league cameos the past two years covering 500 plate appearances during which he hit .167 with a .575 OPS and struck out 30.6 percent of the time. Kelenic didn’t even have his first full season within the minors until 2019 with the Mariners after being drafted No. 6 overall in June 2018 by the Mets, and by the tip of that terrific 2019 farm season he was generally viewed as among the many 10 best prospects in the sport. He’s the sort of player who easily, for instance, could have fronted a trade for Mookie Betts after that season.

Steve Cohen admitted that the $20 million the Mets still owe Robinson Cano next 12 months will factor into a few of their decisions this winter.AP

3. Which brings us to a very powerful first element for a team on the subject of entering the trade market: honest self-examination. Delusion is the enemy. Are you a contender? If that’s the case, where in your contention cycle are you? What does your prospect base appear like going forward, etc.?

The Mets were 77-85 in 2018. They may need been underachievers because they’d talent. But not enough — even with dubious free-agent injections (Jeurys Familia, Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Justin Wilson) — to justify trading away their most up-to-date first-round pick plus taking up five years and around $100 million on Cano’s contract within the immediate aftermath of his suspension for failing a PED test. Not for a more in-depth. You trade big for a more in-depth when you may have certainty of being good, because the Cubs (Aroldis Chapman) and Cleveland (Andrew Miller) did on the 2016 trade deadline.

That is where I hook up with probably the most recent trade deadline. Because by this July — as with the Cubs and Cleveland in 2016 — these Mets wouldn’t have been delusional to see themselves because the sort of team that ought to have been willing to go all-in. That was about them being a first-place team, yes, nevertheless it was greater than that. Max Scherzer continues to be pitching at an elite level, but he’s 37. You’ll be able to’t bet on that to proceed. Diaz, Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker, Brandon Nimmo, Seth Lugo and Adam Ottavino could be free agents after this season, as could Carlos Carrasco if his option is just not picked up. Who knows how quickly and the way successfully you possibly can re-sign or replace all of that talent?

However the Mets didn’t have a go-for-it trade deadline. They obtained complementary pieces in Mychal Givens, Tyler Naquin, Darin Ruf and Daniel Vogelbach. Givens began poorly as a Met before compiling seven straight scoreless appearances going into Thursday. The hitters, though, have been central to an offensive malaise that has overcome the Mets this month, endangering the club’s possibilities of outdueling the Braves for the NL East title.

It has left a growing sense that Eppler and the Mets didn’t do enough to fortify a title contender. So I called Eppler to go down that path. But first, this proviso paying homage to the points concerning the Diaz trade:

Mychal Givens #60 of the New York Mets throws a pitch during the 6th inning against the Washington Nationals, on Labor Day Weekend.After posting an inconsistent first month with the Mets, Mychal Givens has yet to present up a run within the month of September.Michelle Farsi

1. If Vogelbach hits the winning homer in a game closed out by Diaz to secure the Mets’ first championship since 1986, then no fan of the team goes to care much about how Diaz performed in 2019 or how Vogelbach hit in September 2022 nor the recent takes related to either.

2. There all the time is a little bit of blindness in evaluating a trade deadline because as kind as Eppler was together with his time and insight, he was not going to publicly reveal all of the trade permutations and possibilities the Mets had in front of them before the 6 p.m. deadline on Aug. 2. So this piece includes an alchemy of reporting, common sense and — yes — supposition. For instance, it could have been terrrific for the Mets to push to the front of the road to get Juan Soto, but all and sundry I talked to said there was no way the Nationals were trading him inside the NL East, especially once the Padres showed how far they’d go in piling top prospect after top prospect to get him.

3. We would not have a full picture, and we won’t for some time. The Mets traded seven prospects plus J.D. Davis for Givens, Naquin, Ruf and Vogelbach. Not one of the prospects were well-regarded. But, for instance, when the Yankees acquired James Paxton after the 2018 season, Justus Sheffield was the prospect there was lots of concern about giving up. In 2022, Erik Swanson — one other Yankees prospect packaged with Sheffield — has emerged as certainly one of the AL’s best relievers for Seattle.

So now that I offered those three points, let’s delve into Eppler/the Mets’ deadline behavior through 3Up:

1. Greater than the rest, Eppler stressed several times: “We’re attempting to construct something 12 months in and 12 months out that stands the test of time.”

Beyond a trade for Bassitt, the Mets mainly used Cohen’s money to upgrade within the offseason, thus protecting their farm system. At this deadline, Eppler said, in response to their internal list, the Mets didn’t trade any of their top 19 prospects.

J.D. Davis #7 of the San Francisco Giants hits a double that scored a run in the fourth inningagainst the Atlanta Braves at Oracle Park on September 14, 2022 in San Francisco, California.J.D. Davis has hit five homers in his first 33 games with the Giants after he was dealt by the Mets as a part of a package for 4 solid, if unspectacular, veterans on the trade deadline.Getty Images

But, he insisted, that is just not because they didn’t try. They’d offers out that included prospects from their internal top 10 and top five. But Eppler said the club was not going to trade a top-seven prospect for a rental player who could be a free agent after this season.

“This wasn’t an exercise in hoarding [prospects],” Eppler said. “This was about putting it on paper and being willing to go above our comfort level. But let’s not get reckless because we are attempting to construct a culture of sustainability and every part that comes with that.”

Eppler didn’t make this point, nevertheless it is price stating that the Mets weren’t the one team looking for a difference-making bat or lefty reliever. However the industry (not only the Mets) probably saw the costs as too high. Walk-year hitters resembling the Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez and the Cubs’ Willson Contreras weren’t traded, nor were potential walk-year southpaw relievers with the power to get out righty hitters (a Mets priority) resembling the Tigers’ Andrew Chafin and Rangers’ Matt Moore.

Eppler said of his dialogues: “It was like, ‘Hey, we might do that and this [with his prospects],’ nevertheless it didn’t match or they didn’t just like the player and so they felt they were getting a greater [prospect elsewhere]. Great, [the other team would counter], ‘So that you can match this deal, you may have to present this one [prospect].’ I wouldn’t try this one. Are they bluffing? Possibly, perhaps not. But discipline [in sticking to long-term goals of sustainability]…you already know, it’s gonna be the pain of this discipline or the pain of disappointment, and the frustration lasts longer.”

2. Eppler also said deadline trades “don’t move it [percentage chances of a championship] that much.” Should you have a look at the projection system or casino odds immediately after the deadline, the chances don’t rise significantly even with big deals. So, Eppler asked, how much are you willing to sacrifice in prospect collateral to, say, gain a percentage point or two of a greater probability to win?

New York Mets GM Billy Eppler is interviewed at the Spring Training facility, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Port St. Lucie, FL.Billy Eppler said whatever transactions the Mets make right now are done with an eye fixed toward constructing a sustainable winner.Corey Sipkin

“There’s no certainty in these items,” Eppler said.

To that end, I dug into the Padres, who were widely seen as the most important trade deadline winners after obtaining Soto, Josh Bell, Brandon Drury and Josh Hader. Hader pitched so badly, he briefly lost his closing job. He was certainly one of 4 lefty relievers dealt in a market during which the Mets were shopping. Taylor Rogers, who was dealt to the Brewers for Hader, also has pitched poorly, as has Jake Diekman. Will Smith has been effective for the Astros, but that was one iffy contract (Jake Odorizzi) for one more — and Smith was coming from the Braves, not a probable trade partner for the Mets.

Going into Thursday night’s games, Soto, Bell and Drury had combined for 414 plate appearances since joining the Padres during which they’d a .211 average and .673 OPS with 11 homers and 38 RBIs. Naquin, Ruf and Vogelbach, in 287 Mets plate appearances, had a combined .211 average, .687 OPS, eight homers and 34 RBIs — and that was before Vogelbach had a single, a double and three RBIs within the Mets’ win over the Pirates.

“I feel once you have a look at leads to smaller samples that may change into dangerous,” Eppler said.

Since Aug. 3 — the day after the deadline — the player traded prior to the deadline who had one of the best OPS (minimum 50 plate appearances, going into Thursday) was Rangers catcher Mark Mathias (obtained from the Brewers), whose 1.214 OPS actually led the majors over Aaron Judge’s 1.212. Had you even heard of Mark Mathias before reading that sentence? The subsequent best were Phillies infielder Edmundo Sosa (.961) and Red Sox catcher Reese McGuire (.903).

Naquin’s .777 OPS as a Met was almost exactly his profession mark (.776), as was Vogelbach’s .750 (profession: .745). They’re, in bulk, performing to their profession norms. But they’ve slumped concurrently with the Mets’ downturn in play, which has led to greater criticism of the Mets’ trade deadline moves. Their worst look right away is Ruf, especially since the fourth-best OPS since Aug. 3 amongst traded players belongs to the Giants’ Davis (.840), whom Ruf was traded for and replaced. Meanwhile, of the 343 players who’ve batted at the very least 50 times since Aug. 3, the one player with a worse OPS than Ruf’s .397 was Aaron Hicks at .394.

New York Mets GM Billy Eppler is interviewed at the Spring Training facility, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Port St. Lucie, FL.Darin Ruf has struggled on the plate since his arrival from the Giants, though a number of the other options the Mets could have pursued usually are not hitting significantly better.Noah K. Murray

So the Mets’ inability to revive Davis or to seek out a powerful supplementary righty bat is haunting them — at the very least within the small sample size. As noted earlier, neither Contreras nor Martinez was traded. The player the Mets were most strongly related to, Trey Mancini, was hitting .200 with a .718 OPS for the Astros after being obtained from the Orioles. He does have the posh in Astros home games of the tantalizing Crawford Boxes in left field, which he wouldn’t have had at Citi Field, and in Mancini’s first 64 road plate appearances for Houston, he was hitting just .158 with a .585 OPS.

3. The team that Cohen wants his Mets to emulate most is the Andrew Friedman Dodgers. When Friedman took over after the 2014 season, his top three prospects were Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Julio Urias. He never traded Seager or Pederson before they left via free agency, and Urias continues to be an important Dodgers starter.

Even when acquiring star walk-year players on the trade deadline in Yu Darvish (2017) and Manny Machado (2018), Friedman never gave up his higher prospects. It was not until the 2021 deadline — to acquire Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Nationals — that Friedman went to the highest of his prospect list in dispatching catcher Keibert Ruiz and starter Josiah Gray. And neither Ruiz nor Gray has yet made that a painful decision (again, it takes a protracted time to evaluate a trade).

In Friedman’s time running the Dodgers, they’ve been superb at keeping homegrown difference-makers, resembling Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Gavin Lux, Dustin May and catcher Will Smith, and at dealing off prospects touted within the industry who’ve yet to justify the hype, resembling Jose DeLeon and Grant Holmes. It has not been perfect. Frankie Montas was included in a trade for Wealthy Hill and Josh Reddick, and notably Yordan Alvarez was flipped for Josh Fields.

However the decision-making around prospects by the Friedman Dodgers has been exemplary. That is the usual the Eppler Mets hope to emulate. And, at the very least initially, they’re (like those initial Friedman Dodgers teams) attempting to let the system mature before using perceived higher prospects in trades. Longtime MLB executive Dan O’Dowd, my colleague on the MLB Network, has an insight he voices often that I particularly like: “Patience is the one asset routinely rewarded in our sport and the one which is yet in shortest supply.”

Los Angeles Dodgers' Will Smith, left, left, is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run during the second inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022, in Los Angeles.The Dodgers’ ability to construct a consistent contender while keeping prized talents, resembling catcher Will Smith, has made them a model for the Mets to emulate.AP

It is just not often that reporters or fans cheer patience in real time.

With time, we’ll see whether protecting the highest of the system, resembling Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Alex Ramirez, was smartly played, though it’s all with the caveat of what was actually available to the Mets in potential trades and in addition trying to return to peace (as with Kelenic) with what the long run value of the prospects is.

“You may have to take a look at the method by which you acquire players,” Eppler said. “We are able to go all the best way back to after I first began and we undergo free agents and what happened after the lockout after which undergo the deadline and take into consideration what were the opportunities. What was real and what was fantasy? What was the method driving that? So, we try to guage that. I get the sense of urgency [in the moment]. I’m aware of that and aware that you may have to start out asking questions with players. …

“Those are the selections you make. This might affect three or 4 years of this goal of this organization — to crush any urge to make short-term investments that only give marginal gains but surrender large portions of future gains.”

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