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Like a lyric in a popular song, you hear it over and over, in this case from their competitors: The Mets are going for it.
While other teams, such as the Nationals and Reds, were still not firm in their trade-deadline directions, the Mets — along with the Padres, Dodgers and perhaps a few others — are viewed as aggressive within the market. Those clubs were as aggressive as any teams in the offseason, so why stop now when the standings show they are currently playoff teams and their needs — each is going after starting pitching — have become clearer?
I think of a song lyric — “all dressed up with nowhere to go” — with the Mets. They are going to make moves because it is that time of year, and Sandy Alderson’s history is to go for it when his teams are contenders.
But there are factors working against the Mets as they try to upgrade before 4 p.m. July 30:
1. The lack of difference-making starting pitching
The Rangers’ Kyle Gibson was an All-Star, but if the Mets were somehow healthy for October (that means Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard joining Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker), what Division Series game would Gibson even start?
Of course, the Mets have to get there, and even if Gibson regresses to just a competent innings eater, that would help an injury-ravaged rotation now. But how do you price that?
Gibson, at the moment, is the best starter known to be available, with a reasonable $7 million contract for 2022. Teams say the Rangers are asking for a return befitting an All-Star, not a career 96 ERA-plus pitcher who had been strafed for 13 runs on 18 hits in his past two starts.
The problem is it might not get better than Gibson, so why would Texas lower its demands by much? The Rockies’ Jon Gray, talented but enigmatic, is in his walk year and should get traded, but as one starter-interested general manager said, “Good luck dealing with the Rockies. I don’t think they have their act together.”
The Angels have Alex Cobb and Andrew Heaney, the Cubs have Zach Davies and the Twins have Michael Pineda, all in their walk seasons. But this is the level of fine-but-not-great availability right now. Which is why clubs are so interested in whether Minnesota actually deals Jose Berrios.
The Twins want to compete in 2022 (Berrios’ walk year), so the current sense is they will ask for so much in return that no one will meet it. But will some team blink? Because at this moment the Nationals (Max Scherzer) and the Reds (especially Luis Castillo, but also Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle and Wade Miley) want to try to make the playoffs. The Indians and Marlins have quality young starters and need controllable position players now and moving forward, but there is big doubt if either will trade a starter. The Rockies won’t move German Marquez. The Orioles’ John Means is just off the injured list, so he is not easy to judge.
This is how Kyle Gibson begins to get treated like Bob Gibson in a trade market.
2. The lack of prospect depth
Rivals view the Yankees and Mets as having opposite farm systems — the Mets are strong up top and lack depth while the Yankees are deeper with fewer elite talents. The Mets worked hard to keep their best prospects in the Francisco Lindor trade, and the sense among suitors is they want to do the same in this market.
The industry loves third base prospect Brett Baty. They certainly are high on catcher Francisco Alvarez’s bat and arm, but worry about how his thick body will hold up. There is a bit of a mixed report on shortstop Ronny Mauricio, but even those that are not super high see a talented player with the skill set to move to second or third if necessary. The Mets also are hurt for depth because two of their best prospects, pitcher Matt Allen and outfielder Pete Crow Armstrong, were lost to injury for the season.
The next level begins with pitcher J.T. Ginn, who was due to be promoted from Low-A to High-A Brooklyn to pitch Sunday, and third baseman Mark Vientos, who has flashed power this year, but leaves scouts wondering if he has a position he can handle capably in the majors. One executive whose team has available starters said the Mets left the impression they would consider trading bats off their major league roster. They have been open in the past to moving J.D. Davis. But would they go further to Jeff McNeil or Dom Smith? Remember, the lefty bat of Robinson Cano returns to the roster next year.
The Mets have to at least be open to all concepts, because it is not just the uber-aggressive Dodgers and Padres. Every contender wants to add pitching. Because 1) it is that time of year, and 2) there has never been a year like this. Clubs remain tremulous about what their staffs will look like in August, September and October after a 60-game season last year with no minor league campaign. The fourth-most pitchers (754) and fifth-most starters (311) ever already have been used.
3. The lack of impact of Cohen’s money
The Mets owner has suggested he would go over the $210 million threshold (the Mets are roughly $10 million under) and his competitors believe him. But on what? There currently appear no clear money dumps.
There are suggestions the Mets should try to acquire Trevor Story or Javier Baez to play shortstop until the injured Francisco Lindor returns then move the new player elsewhere on the diamond.
But Colorado has said it will get a fair return or not deal Story, who has indicated he is leaving after the season — and interested teams believe that. By the way, among 138 qualified hitters, Story’s 91 OPS-plus ranks 114th. The streaky Baez leads the majors in strikeouts and is second among shortstops in errors.
Kris Bryant has what the Cubs are calling right hamstring fatigue. But there just might be industry fatigue with the player. The Cubs have been open to trading him since 2019 and their price has not been met, suggesting his name is bigger than his value within the game.
Could the Mets take on, say, a large chunk of the $28 million Justin Upton is owed in 2022 to have to give up less prospect capital with the Angels for a difference-making reliever such as Raisel Iglesias — with a Cobb or Heaney also included? It may take such financial jiujitsu in this market, but how far will Cohen even want to go because — among other items — the two years at $40.5 million the Mets owe the suspended Cano returns next year?
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