Although many months remain in what has thus far been a troubling season, it is not too early to consider trade strategies that could best leverage the assets presently on the Met roster. Not that a white flag has officially been flown, but barring a near- miraculous leap in the level of offense from the current roster along with the cloning of a certain pitcher with the initials “MH,” it would seem a safe bet that there isn’t going to be a fight for playoff tickets in Flushing this fall. Not that I don’t expect an improved level of play from this team at some point this summer. After all, the 2001 team that has been referenced lately as the last one to tumble to 10 games under the .500 as early as this year’s version managed to reverse course strongly enough to finish 2 games over. Still, the team as presently comprised is clearly out-gunned in most phases of the game not only by their primary competitors for the division crown, but by most of the league.
Fielding a team that can win enough to hold back the onset of apathy in the fan base is a standard goal for a front office engaged in rebuild mode. Failing that, constructing a roster that features young, exciting players that provide the promise of greatness to come can compensate to a degree, an approach that has been used before during the “Bring Your Kids to See Our Kids” campaign of 1979 and again in 1983 when the slogan “Catch Our Rising Stars” was employed to communicate the same enticement. It is possible that the law of averages alone will dictate a better level of performance by certain key players (guess who) and the team overall as the season progresses, but it will likely coincide with the arrival of Messrs. Wheeler and D’Arnaud. At that point, we may be looking at a roster that has undergone some significant changes.
In the last piece in which I speculated about Met trade possibilities, I concentrated on potential targets for the team to pursue by leveraging their apparent surplus of pitching prospects. Today I intend to look more closely at trade chips on the major league roster, probable suitors for their services, and some possible acquisition candidates. Some of this may represent examples of wishful thinking, but I have striven to keep things realistic.
BULLPEN: Seriously? Other than Bobby Parnell is anyone really going to want these guys? Well, contending teams are typically looking to shore up their relief corps with veteran arms, and capable left-handers are always a desirable commodity, so yes, I expect some interest to be shown in the Met Fire Brigade by at least a few teams. With “veteran” being a key word here, one should assume that the more senior members of the bullpen staff will be shopped and will generate a goodly amount of interest as long as they remain reasonably effective. LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, Greg Burke, Scott Rice and the rehabbing Tim Byrdak all fit the bill of future marketable trade fodder, Rice’s “older rookie” status notwithstanding. Just about any contending team qualifies as a possible destination for these players, but those with the most obvious need at this point include Tampa Bay, whose bullpen is ranked one notch from the bottom in all of MLB despite their being only 4 games out of first at the time of this writing, and St. Louis, currently in first place in the NL Central but with a bullpen ranked fourth from last and only one tick higher than that of the Mets.
Relievers are among the more transient assets in baseball (as Met fans can attest), so the payoff in trade is generally a prospect or two of less than stellar quality, with quantity often compensating for the relative lack of star potential. These players often come from AA and below, so I don’t foresee much in the way of quick fix material arriving in any hypothetical deal that could materialize. However, with the philosophy and track record of the Alderson team being what it is, we can expect that any return package obtained by New York will include at least one prospect that merits a flyer.
STARTING ROTATION: Not that the Mets have any to spare, but as starters are at a premium at all times, you can’t rule out the possibility of someone making a good enough offer to pique the Sandman’s interest. The only candidates I can truly envision going in a deal of this nature would be Shaun Marcum, who would probably have at least a couple wins by now on a team with a decent offense, and Jon Niese, whose youth, left-handedness, experience, highly affordable contract, and relatively successful track record make him a highly marketable chip. Clearly the team will not be looking to deal Harvey, and Gee’s inconsistency and injury history are not likely to interest many looking to arm up for a stretch drive.
Teams with the greatest need in this area include Baltimore, Oakland, San Francisco, and Colorado, all of which are either leading their divisions or in contention despite having starting staffs that rank lower than that of the Mets (thanks largely to Mr. Harvey), and other than the Rockies (who barely escape this distinction) are firmly in the lower 33% of MLB rotations. Trades of this type usually involve pitching going in both directions, where one team swaps inexperienced, often erratic arms full of promise for the hoped-for consistency and veteran mound presence that can help carry them to glory. Of course, teams also deal from strength, so, recognizing the Mets’ shortage of viable outfield options, it is probable that trade partners with a surplus in this area will come calling.
Baltimore’s highest rated prospect is pitcher Dylan Bundy, but both his injury status and outrageous potential pretty much exclude him from the picture. Their best AA pitcher, Kevin Gausman has already been promoted to the big club due to their desperation for starters. He’s a big hard-throwing righthander with a terrific K/BB ratio and any deal involving Niese would have to include him in my opinion. After the whole Wheeler/Beltran thing, Brian Sabean might not be as anxious to do a deal with the Mets so soon after, but outfielder Gary Brown is pretty well blocked by in their system by Angel Pagan so there appears to be a fit. Oakland’s top outfield prospect is Michael Choice, a corner outfielder with the kind of power bat the Mets crave. Colorado has Kyle Parker at AA, an outfielder who profiles similarly to Choice, but is probably at least two years away.
POSITION PLAYERS: Before you start, even if there were any takers on Ike now, which is questionable, I’m not inclined to sell low on anyone. Anyway, I’m still looking for him to snap out of it. No, the real potential trade chips here are the veteran outfield bats of Marlon Byrd and the surprising Rick Ankiel (provided he keeps it up), along with the soon-to-be superfluous John Buck and the versatile Daniel Murphy. Of this group, Murph is probably the most valuable, being able to adequately man three infield positions and going through the occasional unconscious period at the plate where line drives materialize out of his bat seemingly at will. Speculation has already arisen that the Nationals could look to acquire him to replace the ineffective Danny Espinosa. Knowing the Alderson approach, he would likely ask for Washington’s top outfield prospect Brian Goodwin, a five-tool CF currently at AA Harrisburg, but trades between division rivals are tricky and I’m not sure even Sandy could pry him away. A more realistic target would be AAA CF Eury Perez, a speedy leadoff type whose slot in the big club is held down by recent acquisition Denard Span.
Buck is attractive to teams for his veteran presence, defensive prowess, and occasional power, but I wouldn’t expect him to command a big return. Byrd and Ankiel profile as the type of players teams acquire to strengthen their benches for the stretch run, but again, the return on trades of this type are not likely to include anything of top-tier value. We will have to put our faith in the scouting ability of Alderson, DePodesta, et al to help insure that something useful comes back on this end of any deal.
The Mets are clearly in transition mode and changes are to be expected. Hopefully we can all glean some excitement from those shifts even if we have to wait longer for the eventual payoff. I just hope the wait isn’t too much longer.