The news came just this past Friday. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Mets would listen to offers for some of their short-term veterans. This can’t come as much of a surprise to Mets fans. Despite a three-game sweep of the abysmal San Francisco Giants, the Mets enter Monday with a 34-41 record. They sit 11.0 games out of first in the NL East, and 11.5 games out of an NL Wild Card spot. Missing their Ace Noah Syndergaard likely until the end of August with a lat tear, along with multiple injuries to their roster; star left fielder Yoenis Cespedes was sidelined for over a month with a hamstring strain in late April, while Matt Harvey was recently placed on the DL with injuries to his throwing shoulder. This is the latest in a long line of injuries to the former Ace; in Harvey’s breakout 2013 season, he suffered a partially torn UCL in his right elbow which required Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2014 season. In 2016, Harvey complained of shoulder pain and then had season-ending surgery to relieve a condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is a condition that compresses the nerves from the collarbone to the first rib. Now, Harvey was placed on the DL with a “stress reaction” in his right shoulder.
Not just this, but the Mets have lost Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, and Juan Lagares to varying periods of time due to injuries. Most notably, the Mets have been without captain David Wright for over a year, playing his last game on May 27 of last season. Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis in 2015, and was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement in February of this year. He has yet to be cleared since then.
Part of the Mets’ recent woes could easily be attributed to these unfortunate setbacks for their players. A big factor is a lack of youth. Baseball Reference offers the average age of each team on each roster page. The average age of the Mets roster is 29.9, the oldest in the National League. In a league that has been lead by a youth movement (the World Series Champion Cubs, Royals, and Giants had average ages of 27.4, 29.2, and 28.5, respectively) the veteran Mets need a youthful jolt. Being the oldest team in the NL may be the reason for these frequent injuries. Or it could be from a terrible strength and conditioning program. Or both! Yay, variety!
With the team near the basement of the NL East and far out of a Wild Card spot, and especially with little reason to think that they may make a comeback, selling seems to be their best choice. Contending teams will always take on a veteran presence in hopes of adding to a postseason run, and the Mets would be able to add prospects, improving the farm system and getting younger: a win-win for both sides. You know what that means, dear reader: I speculate about trades again, so buckle up!
As Buster Olney alluded to on Friday, the Mets are considering selling. One of the more attractive options to contending teams would be Jay Bruce. Bruce would be a great addition to the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins. The Twins, who have surprised everyone this year, have a 0.5 game lead over the reigning American League Champion Cleveland Indians, and could use a boost in the lineup. Starting right fielder Max Kepler has given them a .249/.316/.414 slash line with only 8 HRs and 29 RBI. Likewise, Robbie Grossman has slashed .253/.388/.395 with 6 HRs and 22 RBI in the DH spot. Bruce has had a very strong year, boosting his trade value, hitting .270/.339/.543 with 20 HRs and 52 RBI. Throw those numbers into the Twins lineup, and he would be fourth in batting average, fifth in on-base percentage, and second in slugging percentage. Also, he would lead the team in home runs and tie for the lead in RBI.
The Mets could ask the Twins for catching prospect Ben Rortvedt. According to scouting reports, he has great defensive instincts behind the plate, not to mention a strong arm and raw, powerful bat speed. The Mets could use a young catcher. Travis d’Arnaud has not been effective, to say the least. The oft-injured backstop has topped 100 games in a season once (2014), and when he has been healthy, he hasn’t been very productive: his career slash line is .242/.307/.400. He is a below-average defensive catcher, with a career dWAR of -1.3 and accounts for -23 defensive runs saved for his career. While Rortvedt is still growing as a player, it’s worth taking a shot on a young catcher like him who could be up in the Majors by the start of the 2020 season. d’Arnaud’s contract is up after the 2019 season, which would fit perfectly for the Mets. Another player the Mets can get out of this would be pitching prospect Thomas Hackimer, who the Mets originally drafted in 2015. Hackimer opted not to sign and returned to college, and was drafted by the Twins in 2016. The side-arm throwing Hackimer was recently called up to A+ Fort Myers, and has pitched to a 1.57 ERA with 35 K’s in 34.1 relief innings between two levels this year. If he continues to pitch effectively out of the bullpen, Hackimer can continue to climb up through the minor league ranks and become an effective MLB reliever, throwing an average fastball with late life that fools hitters from his deceptive arm angle.
Asdrubal Cabrera is another Met who could be shopped before the deadline. As a matter of fact, Cabrera recently requested a trade after being moved to second base. It’s worth noting that Cabrera did not have a problem playing 48 games at second base when he was traded to the Nationals in 2014. So perhaps playing for the Mets has simply caused Cabrera to lose his will to live. Who’s to say? What is clear is that he wants out of Flushing. The Tampa Bay Rays seemed to be an ideal partner, though they just acquired shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from the Miami Marlins. The Baltimore Orioles find themselves one game under .500 but only 4.5 games out of the AL East lead and 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. With J.J. Hardy injured with a fractured wrist, they could look for an outside replacement. Baltimore may even be thankful that Hardy went down, as his horrid .566 OPS represented a massive hole in the lineup, and replacement Ruben Tejada hasn’t been much better, slashing .182/.250/.242. The veteran switch hitting Cabrera offers a slash line of .263/.343/.405. The 31 year old still gets on base at a good rate, though he won’t set the world on fire with his glove (he has a .938 fielding percentage and -0.8 dWAR this season).
Another area of need for the Orioles is in the bullpen. The Orioles have a team ERA of 5.15, last in the American League, and Addison Reed offers a good solution at the back-end of the bullpen until closer Zach Britton can come back from the DL with a left forearm strain that has cost him much of this season. Reed has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Mets, pitching to a 2.12 ERA, striking out 147 batters compared to just 23 walks in 131.1 innings with the Mets. Compare that to his two years in Arizona where he pitched to a 4.23 ERA with 103 K’s and 29 walks in just 100.0 innings with the D-Backs. Reed has really blossomed in New York, and could take that success to Baltimore in the role of a set-up man, helping to improve that bullpen.
Now, the Mets can package Cabrera and Reed together in a deal for shortstop prospect Ryan Mountcastle and pitching prospect Paul Fry. Mountcastle has plus-bat speed and hand-eye coordination, but some believe that he will not stay at shortstop, as he doesn’t have the arm for it. Second base is a better option for him (and for the Mets, as shortstop prospect Amed Rosario is expected up next season) due to this defensive deficiency. Fry was acquired by the Orioles in a prospect-for-prospect trade earlier this year, and is an interesting player. He is someone that had a lot of hype as he came up in the Mariners system, but after strong seasons in 2014, 2015, and 2016, he has since racked up an ERA of 7.71 and 6.94 over two levels this year. Though, this makes him an interesting bounce back candidate. If he can put it all back together, he could conceivably become a possible lefty specialist in the big leagues. The Mets would take that any day.
The final trade candidate is Lucas Duda. Featuring big lefty pop, Duda is an on-base machine who offers decent defense at first. With a slash line of .251/.362/.553 plus 13 HRs and 29 RBI, Duda could be a big trade target to contenders looking for help at first base. The Yankees or Astros could be ideal trade targets, the Yankees especially looking for help at first base after getting .152/.268/.292 from Chris Carter and Greg Bird up to this point. Though Tyler Austin was recently called up, Duda could be an option for the Yankees if Greg Bird does not return to form when he is activated from the disabled list. With an electric curveball, a plus fastball, and a developing change-up, Drew Finley could be an under-the-radar acquisition for the Mets here. They would likely be able to ask for Hoy Jun Park in return for Duda, or even an established player, like Rob Refsnyder, who could probably benefit from a change of scenery as he does not seem to have a place in the Yankees plans at all.
The Astros may be interested in a bit more production at first base. Yuli Gurriel has had a solid season at the plate (.278/.305/.443), but has only hit 8 HRs and 32 RBI. A platoon with Duda could be big for Houston. In return for Duda, the Astros could offer Riley Ferrell, whom many see as a quality reliever at the big league level, and starting pitching prospect Brady Rodgers, who could help a depleted Mets rotation as early as this summer if included in said hypothetical trade.
Bruce, Cabrera, Reed, and Duda are all free agents after this season (Cabrera has a club option for 2018). The Mets would be able to trade four pending free agents and actually get a return for them before they go elsewhere. Duda and Cabrera do not have a future in Queens, as Top Prospects SS Amed Rosario and 1B Dominic Smith are expected to debut for the Mets at the start of next season. Along with those four, they would lose Curtis Granderson to free agency (who likely wouldn’t draw much interest at the trade deadline as the 36 year old sports a lowly .235/.328/.457 slash line with depleted range in the outfield, with a dWAR of -0.1 this year compared to 4.6 for his career), along with Neil Walker and Jose Reyes, thus clearing up a lot of payroll: $68.98M in total.
This newfound capital allows the Mets to spend in the offseason. Two big name signings could be Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. In all likelihood, David Wright isn’t playing again. Moustakas offers the Mets good defense and a strong power bat (I went over Moustakas’ upsides in my last blog post). Cain, who finished third in the AL MVP vote in 2015, offers the Mets a viable starting center fielder. Cain has been one of the best defensive center fielders in all of baseball over the past few years, sporting a dWAR of 9.1 from 2013-2016. The career .287 hitter could be great in the leadoff spot, averaging 28 stolen bases a year in his career, and averaging 33 doubles a year.
The 28 year old Moustakas can be had on a 5 year deal for roughly $72.5M (worth $14.5M per year), while I believe the 31 year old Cain would be available on a 4 year deal for $64M (worth $16M per year). This allows the Mets to play budding star Michael Conforto in a natural corner outfield spot (likely right field), with Yoenis Cespedes in left field and Cain in center field (offering the Mets a natural center fielder who can actually hit for the first time in recent memory). The infield would be made up of Moustakas at third, Rosario at shortstop, possibly giving Wilmer Flores an actual shot to prove himself at second base, and Dominic Smith at first base, with Travis d’Arnaud catching. These trades built up the Mets’ farm system and budding youth movement, while saving a lot of money and being able to spend on valuable pieces who can help the Mets to get back to the postseason immediately. I think these are important moves for the future of the organization.
Or maybe they just need a new strength and conditioning program. The world may never know.
By: Chris Perkowski