If not now, when?
The Mets submitted an ultimately underwhelming haul in front of the trade deadline, eschewing a major move and opting instead for incremental additions in platoon DH Darin Ruf and middle reliever Mychal Givens. The next three months can be spent pondering if this was enough.
Ruf and Givens join Daniel Vogelbach and Tyler Naquin as the sum of the Mets’ additions. General manager Billy Eppler talked about the team growing its run differential while maintaining its cumulative World Series odds over the long term, as the Mets were steadfast in holding on to their prospects. It had grown clear over the last week that New York would not give up anyone in its top tier of prospects, a group of six players. Eppler said they ended up hanging on to their top 19 prospects.
“We were able to strengthen the club today and over the past couple weeks,” he said. “I feel good about how things transpired.”
That conservative approach, however, failed to recognize and reward the historical uniqueness of the Mets’ position. Without the best pitcher in baseball, the Mets traversed the season’s first four months to arrive at its final third in pristine form. Their 65-37 record through 102 games is the second-best in franchise history, behind only the 1986 machine. The last time a team from the National League East was better through 102 games was 2003, and the only National League franchise to better that mark in the last decade is the Dodgers.
With the exception of Jacob deGrom’s absence, they have experienced remarkably good health, with James McCann the only position player regular who’s missed more than a handful of games on the IL. This is not normal in Queens.
New York has thus positioned itself in 2022 not merely to break its six-season drought without postseason baseball or a seven-year one without a division title. The Mets are legitimate championship contenders, as capable as any team in baseball of ending the month of October by hoisting a trophy.
Devoted readers here, and maybe even some casual ones, will know that hasn’t happened in the last 35 autumns.
Since the day he was introduced as general manager in November, Eppler has spoken about maximizing the club’s collective World Series odds over a span of several years. He reiterated that stance Tuesday, talking about the Mets’ forecasts and predictive models and “(trying) to do everything in service to that kind of sustainability.”
He did the math Tuesday, saying sustainability is undercut when you subtract one to 1.5 percent from your World Series odds each year over the next several to add a percent this year. Everything the Mets contemplated but didn’t do Tuesday, he said, “just took too much of that future away.”
But the math has to align with the context: You’ll pay more for an umbrella if it’s raining right now. There are avenues to recouping future value traded away, especially when you have access to Steve Cohen’s wallet. And there’s no guarantee, and maybe no probability, that the position the Mets have dragged themselves to this season can be established next year and beyond.
Health is a perennial question mark; you capitalize when it breaks your way like this. And while brighter than usual, the Mets’ future is blurry. The large majority of their pitching staff, as well as their leadoff hitter, is set to hit free agency. Even with all those top prospects, they lack ready-made replacements for what they may lose this winter.
In a sport of uncertainty, the Mets could at least claim this about their present: Max Scherzer started Monday night, and deGrom started Tuesday night. That may never happen in a different season, and thus it sure feels appropriate to maximize 2022’s specific World Series odds.
To claim that the Mets are better than they were a fortnight ago, as Eppler did, is accurate but facile. Every contending team is better than it was two weeks ago, and it’s the differences in magnitude that matter. Atlanta is better. Philadelphia is better. Milwaukee is better. San Diego is a helluva lot better. These are all potential postseason opponents for the Mets.
According to multiple industry sources, the Mets appeared spooked by what happened last summer, when they traded Pete Crow-Armstrong only to see him blossom into one of the game’s best prospects. Allowing that experience to influence their decisions this week would misunderstand the competitive contexts. On deadline day last season, the Mets were eight games over .500 with a plus-three run differential. They had just learned they were losing deGrom for an extended period of time. This year, they’re 28 games over with a plus-102 differential, getting deGrom back.
This was the year to be aggressive. This was the year to trade one of your 19 best prospects for a left-handed reliever, to trade even one of the top tier for an impact everyday player. This was the year to steal a little from future World Series odds to maximize them now.
If not now, when?
(Photo of Mychal Givens in April: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)
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