It’s officially trade season, ladies and gentlemen. The All-Star break has come and gone, which means that soon it’s time for teams to truthfully evaluate where they are this season. Sandy Alderson was right in saying that the trade market is only beginning to materialize at this point in the season, because no matter how badly a front office pursues a player in June, it’s unlikely that anything will become of it immediately. Backing off until the deadline looms larger is a helpful strategy to more effectively assess a team’s needs.
Not every team is able to figure out whether buyers or sellers until just about this point in the year, where the team has already played roughly 90 games, and it becomes clearer who should be in contention at the end of the year. It also helps to ensure that both sides receive roughly equal value for the assets they are trading away. The longer teams wait, the more “fair” a trade will be.
In case you haven’t heard this said at least five times a day over the past month and a half, the Mets need a bat. The return of David Wright isn’t necessarily a guarantee, which means that unless Dilson Herrera looking markedly better in his latest stint in Vegas, Ruben Tejada will be playing shortstop for a team with playoff aspirations. Lucas Duda has been a catastrophe for a while, throwing up a highly upsetting slash line of .166/.279/.287 in his last 43 games. Juan Lagares has never been a very good hitter, but this year he’s even worse than expected. Kevin Plawecki has been great recently, but Travis d’Arnaud looked primed for an All-Star season if he weren’t stopped by two separate injuries.
And now for everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Michael Cuddyer. I liked the deal at the time, because it was clear that the Mets needed a corner outfielder, and he was one of the only options out there. Sure, the contract was a little pricey, but I thought he’d be worth at least most of it. I preferred him to Melky Cabrera because the “Melk Man’s” performance has been hard to predict, and the Mets couldn’t afford a down year from him. There was also talk about Nelson Cruz, despite the fact that his second half was significantly worse than his first half. Without allowing hindsight to affect my view, all things considered, Cuddyer was the guy.
Unfortunately, he’s been an abject failure to this point. He’s having the worst season of his career, which is to be expected at age 36, but the extent of his decline is the surprising part. He’s certainly earned his new names, Michael Cruddyer, as well as my favorite, Michael Cadaver.
I do think that the pitching is good enough that technically, the Mets can sustain this level of hitting and make the postseason, so they don’t need a hitter. Not trading for a bat will not kill the season. But it makes all the sense in the world, and it could be the thing that pushes them over the top. Whether or not that last sentence is equal to need, well that’s a semantic debate.
First off, we need to look at the trade assets before diving into the trade market. Dillon Gee has absolutely no trade value at this point. Sandy blew it with him. His value was highest in the middle of last season, when he was outperforming his talent, and Alderson kept holding out to find the perfect trade for Gee. A combination of overvaluing Gee and hoping some other team overvalues Gee, has led to a pitcher who has little value to his own team and none to anyone else.
Bartolo Colon could entice some other teams, especially if the Mets eat some of his salary, but it’s very likely that any team gets offered Colon will hold out for a better pitcher from another team, or his own teammate, Jon Niese. Niese has been pitching great after a slow start to the season, and the fact that he’s a 28-year-old lefty, with three years on a manageable contract after this season (with two of them being team options), makes him an ideal trade candidate. I know that the injury to Steven Matz complicates things, but the Mets can cover for the fifth spot in their rotation for the time being. Rafael Montero has supposedly resurfaced, and Logan Verrett is back to starting in Las Vegas. Between the time Niese is traded, which will presumably be near the end of the month, and when Matz is cleared to return, the Mets won’t be any worse for giving Verrett a couple of spot starts. Worst case scenario, the other number 35, the aforementioned Dillon Gee comes back and makes two terrible starts while we wait for the Long Island kid to return to the mound.
Now that he’s rehabbing from a shoulder injury suffered in April, Rafael Montero will attract some other teams. The Mets may consider him expendable because they can field a five man rotation over the next few years without him, but the other 29 teams in the league still see him as one of New York’s top prospects, and someone who could be a part of their rotation for years to come.
Michael Fulmer and Gabriel Ynoa are Double-A pitchers who would be more highly regarded if they were on a team that didn’t already have so many young, MLB-ready pitching. With the sheer numbers at the major league level, it’s hard to imagine Fulmer or Ynoa cracking the rotation next year, so it makes sense to see what possible return he could garner.
Niese, Montero, and Fulmer/Ynoa are, in that order, the most likely to be traded. One of them, or some combination of them could net a pretty good position player to help the team chase the playoffs. However, there are some other options who could be dealt in the right deal for a possible star player.
The front office will be, and rightfully so, reluctant to trade any of the young star pitchers. We know this already, but I think everybody has a price. There are a few scenarios where I would consider trading away one of them, but it would really take a lot. But which of the young studs could be moved?
Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey are established as untouchable, and while he’s the most replaceable of Generation K-Prime (that’s a math joke for all of you who have tried to forget the trauma of calculus), I don’t know how likely it is that another team would want to take on Zack Wheeler as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. While the success rate of the procedure is high, there is always risk involved with any injury.
That leaves Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Matz has a very simple advantage, which will make him more likely to stay in Flushing for the long haul: he’s left-handed. Being able to trot out a rotation that includes at least one lefty in Matz is important, so if any of the five were to be dealt, it would have to be Sydergaard.
I wouldn’t rule out one of the two catchers being traded. If the Mets are confident that Travis d’Arnaud can actually stay on the field, citing the fact that a lot of his injuries are simply freak accidents, then Kevin Plawecki could be dangled out there. If the opposite is true, and Mets management is tired of TdA’s constant trips to the Disabled List, while believing that since Plawecki has gotten over his illness, he’s done enough to show that he can hit on the Major League level, d’Arnaud could be on the block.
With Conforto being more of a sure thing at this stage, Brandon Nimmo should be made available as well.
As much as I’d love for the Mets to trade Daniel Murphy, they just can’t with the current state of the offense. It’s very unfortunate, because I don’t see him returning after this year unless David Wright’s career could legitimately be over, but they can’t trade him away.
To recap, the most available assets would have to be Colon, Niese, Montero, Fulmer, and Ynoa, while Wheeler, Syndergaard, either Plawecki or d’Arnaud (I would prefer to deal Plawecki), Nimmo, and Gavin Cecchini could potentially move in the perfect deal.
You probably knew all of that already, so stay tuned for part two and three which will detail both the realistic and unrealistic trade options for the Mets.