League Winners in Each Round
Covering the impact of coronavirus on the sports world
Even in an MLB season with so much weirdness and uncertainty, the New York Mets keep making headlines like only they can. Earlier this month Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the season and informed everyone by simply not showing up to the ballpark, and going home in the middle of a road trip. Only the Mets. I swear.
On a more serious note, the Mets returned to play Tuesday night after two positive COVID-19 tests forced their last four games to be postponed. The team has to play three doubleheaders in six days, which won’t make life easy in the postseason race. The Mets are hovering around a wild-card spot but could jump into second place in the NL East with a series win over the Marlins.
GM Brodie Van Wagenen has been extremely aggressive in his two seasons at the helm — aggressive to the point of reckless, I’d say — and I have no reason to believe he will be anything but aggressive at the deadline. The team is in the process of being sold and Van Wagenen knows the next owner may want his own GM. He’s trying to win and save his job (or set up his next job).
« If there’s something to do in the short-term that gives us some degree of upgrade over a particular position, then we’ll look to do it. But we’re not going to do it at the sacrifice of our long-term goals, » Van Wagenen told reporters, including Tim Healey on Newsday, in classic GM speak on Monday.
The Mets are talented but flawed, like most teams in this sport, and Van Wagenen’s history suggests he will attack that flaws by trading prospects. It’s hard to say whether that will still be the case in the post-pandemic baseball landscape, but history does tend to repeat itself. Let’s preview the trade deadline for Van Wagenen and the Mets.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Mets had arguably the best and deepest rotation in baseball. Now they’re short on starters and figure to be in the market for rotation help at the trade deadline. The Mets ostensibly came into 2020 with six starters for five spots and, well, this all happened:
Lefty David Peterson was called up earlier this season and he was awfully impressive in four starts (2.91 ERA), but has since landed on the injured list with shoulder fatigue. The Mets have been forced to put Seth Lugo, an important high-leverage reliever, in the rotation the rest of the season. The team has a clear need for rotation help even if Peterson and Wacha return soon.
Beyond the rotation, the Mets could use another late-inning reliever — which team couldn’t? — to replace Lugo at the end of games, and a better natural center fielder than Billy Hamilton would work too. That said, the Mets have gone with Brandon Nimmo in center, Michael Conforto in right, and some combination of J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith in left this long already. They might stick with it and trade defense for offense.
The Angels are, once again, one of the biggest disappointments in baseball, and they’re reportedly willing to sell at the deadline. The new slider-happy Dylan Bundy is their best trade chip (non-Mike Trout division) and he fits nicely with the Mets because he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next season. Right now, the only locks for New York’s 2021 rotation are deGrom and probably Peterson. Matz is pitching his way out of the picture and Syndergaard isn’t expected back until midseason. Even if Lugo is lights out as a starter and stays in that role, the Mets will still need rotation help next year, so Bundy helps now and later.
A slight pitch mix adjustment (fewer fastballs and more splitters) have Kevin Gausman running the highest strikeout rate of his career by a decent margin. The Giants are hanging around the wild-card race and could keep Gausman, a rental working on a low-cost one-year deal, for themselves and try to make a run at the postseason. Then again, they traded impending free agent Drew Pomeranz at the deadline last year despite being only two games out. The bet here is president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi focuses on the big picture and cashes in Gausman as a trade chip. He might be the best rental starter on the market.
The « hey, maybe the Orioles will contend » story was fun while it lasted. Baltimore has lost six of its last eight games, and while a wild-card spot is still within reach, the team is trending in the wrong direction. Unless they do something unexpected like make Anthony Santander or Pedro Severino available, setup man Mychal Givens is their best trade chip. Givens manhandles righty batters — that would come in handy against the Braves (Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Dansby Swanson), Phillies (Alec Bohm, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura), and Padres (Manny Machado, Wil Myers, Fernando Tatis Jr.) in a short postseason series — and he is under team control through 2021 as an arbitration-eligible player, so he’s not just a rental.
The Rangers have crashed hard the last week or so and it’s only natural to wonder whether Cy Young candidate Lance Lynn will become available. His trade value will never be higher — Lynn’s three-year, $30 million contract is front-loaded, so he’ll make only $8 million in the final year in 2021 — and the Rangers could use an influx of young talent. Van Wagenen is not afraid to do something big and going after Lynn would qualify as huge. Mike Minor, a rental unlike Lynn, is having a poor season and wouldn’t cost nearly as much to acquire. He also is unlikely to provide anywhere near the same impact.
The tear down started with the Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman trade last week, and it’s hard to believe the Red Sox will stop there. Other rentals like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mitch Moreland figure to be on the move as well. Veteran southpaw Martin Perez has pitched admirably this season and he has bullpen experience, so he could fill a variety of roles come October. As an added bonus, his contract includes a $6.25 million club option for 2021, so he’s not necessarily a rental. Perez is not going to swing the balance of power in a postseason race but he’s a solid starter who represents an upgrade at the back of the rotation for many teams, Mets included.
Other potential targets: LHP Matthew Boyd, Tigers; RHP Keone Kela, Pirates; OF Kevin Pillar, Red Sox; RHP Richard Rodriguez, Pirates; RHP Trevor Rosenthal, Royals; RHP Taijuan Walker, Mariners
In his brief tenure as general manager Van Wagenen has not been shy about trading top prospects. Outfielder Jarred Kelenic went to the Mariners in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade, and pitchers Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson went to the Blue Jays in the Stroman trade. As a result, the Mets have the 20th-best farm system in the game, according to Baseball America.
It’s unlikely the Mets will subtract from their MLB roster at the deadline but I can’t help but wonder if they’d make Nimmo available under the right circumstances. He’s playing out of position in center field because the team has so many corner outfielders, and he’s only two years away from free agency. The Mets have offense to spare and could use Nimmo to upgrade the rotation.
I’m not saying the Mets should give Nimmo away, but why not at least listen? For example, is there a Nimmo for Mike Clevinger framework that makes sense? Cleveland desperately needs outfield help and has pitching to spare. The Mets need rotation help and have outfield depth in spades. High-impact starters are hard to acquire and Nimmo is not an unreasonable price to pay.
My hunch is Peterson and infielder Andres Gimenez, who’s dazzled in the field and on the bases despite an underwhelming .254/.290/.339 batting line, are as close to off-limits as it gets for Wagenen. He’ll listen because there’s no reason not to listen, but those are the two guys he really wants to keep. In fact, Gimenez may make the stagnating Amed Rosario available.
Only players included in a team’s 60-man player pool can be traded this year and the Mets have six of their top 15 prospects per MLB.com at the alternate site: IF Ronny Mauricio (No. 1), C Francisco Alvarez (No. 2), RHP Matthew Allen (No. 4), LHP Thomas Szapucki (No. 9), LHP Kevin Smith (No. 12), and RHP Franklyn Kilome (No. 15). That presumably makes them available.
Teams can get around the 60-man player pool rule with players to be named later. They can include a player to be named in a trade as a placeholder, then, once the season ends, a non-60-man player becomes the player to be named. So, really, anyone in the system can be traded, and New York’s list of untouchables is likely small with their World Series window as open as it’s going to get.
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