The lead is not as large as it was eight weeks ago, but the New York Mets remain atop the NL East, and control their own destiny as they chase their first division title since 2015. They’ve done it without two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, who hasn’t pitched in a big-league game in over a calendar year, but is nearing a return to the rotation.
Owner Steve Cohen did not push his Opening Day payroll up near $300 million to cut corners at the trade deadline. The Braves have been charging hard these last few weeks and the Mets still have a few weaknesses on the roster, so expect them to be active prior to the Aug. 2 deadline. There’s a time to be aggressive and a time to be conservative. This is a time to be aggressive.
“I would like to be an equal-opportunity buyer,” GM Billy Eppler told the New York Post earlier this month. “So whether that is something that helps with run prevention, great. If it helps with run production, great. Let’s try to grow those numbers as far apart as we can and be open to anything. I don’t want to be beholden to a shopping list.”
Let’s now break down the Amazin’ Mets with the trade deadline less than 10 days away.
The Mets have a clear need for a power bat and they added Daniel Vogelbach in a trade with the Pirates last week. That does not preclude Eppler from pursuing a higher-impact hitter, though it does increase their need for bullpen help. Reliable rookie Colin Holderman went to Pittsburgh in the trade.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had with other clubs have given me the feeling that there might be a little bit more robust of a relief market than the bats,” Eppler told MLB.com following the Vogelbach trade. “So we had to use this opportunity to do that.”
Edwin Díaz has been electric in the ninth inning and the Mets need to build a more reliable bridge with Adam Ottavino effectively a righty specialist and Seth Lugo having a down year. DeGrom’s return is imminent and he’s better than any starter the Mets could realistically bring in at the deadline (assuming he stays healthy). If the Mets add another starter, it is likely to be a back-end innings guy for depth. Someone who could easily slide into the bullpen later in the year and in the postseason.
Will the Nationals trade Soto in the division? When you’re resigned to trading a player this good and this young, I think you have to take the best possible package no matter where it sends him. That said, I can understand why the Nationals would not want to trade Soto within the NL East. Still, if you’re the Mets, you have to at least ask, and they can put a strong prospect package together. Soto would be an overqualified DH solution and he’s under control an additional two years, which is essentially this team’s window with deGrom (who has said he will opt out after the season) and Max Scherzer.
Contreras really would be a great fit for the Mets. He could help them both behind the plate and at DH, and also add power to a lineup that needs it. He’s also a rental and wouldn’t tie up future payroll as the club prepares to re-sign (or try to re-sign) deGrom this coming winter. The Cubs and Mets hooked up for the Javier Báez trade last year and you can see how they could again benefit each other mutually at this year’s deadline.
The 37-year-old Robertson, in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, could help every contender. He’s having a fine season and he passed every possible “can he handle New York?” test during his two stints with the Yankees. Robertson misses bats and can close, set up, pitch in middle relief, you name it. An ideal target for a contender looking for high leverage bullpen help. Mychal Givens is another Cubs reliever who could interest the Mets.
The Rockies do weird things, though I think even they realize they have to trade Bard, a 37-year-old free agent-to-be. Bard can still run into control problems, though nothing as extreme as what derailed his career with the Red Sox, but he’s a bat-misser and a ground-ball-getter who can close or set up. Veteran righty Alex Colomé is another Rockies reliever who could interest the Mets and contenders in general.
The Tigers could offer several relievers — lefties Andrew Chafin and Gregory Soto would help any contender — but Fulmer is a rental and most definitely available. He’s become a slider machine, throwing the pitch roughly 60 percent of the time, yet there hasn’t been a corresponding uptick in strikeouts. Fulmer could probably stand to throw a few more fastballs at this point. Either way, he has late inning experience and shouldn’t cost too much to acquire.
With Tigers outfielder Riley Greene in the big leagues, Mets catcher Francisco Álvarez is the top prospect in the minors, giving New York a premium trade chip. That said, it’s hard to see the Mets seriously considering moving Álvarez for anyone but Soto, and even then they might be hesitant. Infield prospects Ronny Mauricio and Mark Vientos figure to be the top prospects the Mets are most willing to part with at the deadline. Perhaps outfielder Alex Ramirez as well.
Dominic Smith is very available, though he’s now on the injured list with an ankle problem, which complicates things. So does the fact Smith hasn’t been very good the last two years. He’s a reclamation project more than a bona fide trade chip. Would the Mets move Luis Guillorme? I don’t think so, he’s an excellent role player for a contender, but they have Francisco Lindor at short and Jeff McNeil at second. Guillorme is expendable, in theory. Perhaps he’s someone New York would be willing to move in the right trade. Just a thought.