This has been an offseason in which big name free agents still sit on the sidelines, waiting for offers. Jose Bautista, who has hit almost 100 home runs since the 2014 season, is still without a team. Mark Trumbo and his 47 home runs in 2016? Still waiting to be signed as well. Mike Napoli and his 34 home runs, the same.
What are the trends of this offseason that led to this? First, there was the run on closers. The playoffs showed the value of having a big arm to carry you at the end of a big game, and there was little surprise that Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, and Kenley Jansen all got the biggest contracts.
Another less talked about trend was teams’ willingness to trade top prospects for top talent. The Red Sox traded Yoan Moncada, the top Red Sox prospect as well as the second best overall prospect in MLB, to procure the talents of Chris Sale.
The Nationals traded the third best prospect in all of baseball, a second pitcher (Reynaldo Lopez) who was in the top ten in right handed starting pitching prospects (8th) and their most recent first round pick. All this for Adam Eaton, a solid player with a lifetime .284 average and 34 career home runs who’s certainly not a superstar.
Trading prospects is always a risk and Mets fans are more protective of their prospects than most fan bases. When the Royals had Wade Davis available, Mets fans bristled at the suggestion of trading a player like Robert Gsellman for him. The brass of the organization like to throw the term ‘untouchable’ around. Mets fans grow antsy if the suggestion is made to package a Michael Conforto or Gsellman for a player who might only wear a Mets uniform for a season.
The Mets need to be willing to trade prospects, and the fans should not be afraid those prospects might develop in other uniforms. And yes, the Mets have made some trades in which they gave up players way too soon, Nolan Ryan being the best example. More recently, however, the Mets made a trade that scarred the fan base and cost the GM Jim Duquette his job.
In order to give the Mets a chance to win with a pitifully lacking 2004 team, the Mets traded top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. Famously, Pitching Coach Rick Peterson said he could fix Zambrano “in ten minutes.” Kazmir is still pitching and has racked up 108 big league wins. Zambrano? Plagued by health problems, he won ten games with the Mets from 2004 till 2006, and never won another game after that.
Has this trade so traumatized the Mets and their fans that we hold onto prospects for dear life? What if we had been a little looser with some of our top prospects who have fizzled over the last decade, whether it be Rafael Montero (3rd best prospect in 2014), Luis Mateo (4th best prospect in 2013), Cesar Puello (5th best in 2012), Jenrry Mejia (2nd best in 2011, 1st in 2010) or Fernando Martinez (3rd best in 2010, 1st in 2009)?
Sometimes a prospect’s best value for a team is being used as a chip in a trade. Michael Fulmer looks like a star in the making, but had the Mets not traded him in 2015 for a ‘rental’ the Mets would not have made the World Series in 2015, and much more likely than not Yoenis Cespedes would not be wearing a Mets’ uniform through the 2020 season. Furthermore, with the Mets current wealth in starting pitching, the Mets only improved with that deal.
The Mets as they are currently constructed are counting on strong starting pitching to carry them. A top bullpen is needed to compete with a strong Nationals team and the Mets do not currently have one. Other than Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, the Mets do not have a relief pitcher who showed any consistency last year, and Familia might be out the first 30 games of the season. Blevins and Salas are available but the Mets have made no indication they will sign either.
Sandy Alderson has said he doesn’t even want to give two years to a relief pitcher during an off season when a pitcher like Brett Cecil receives a 4 year, 30 million dollar contract, so there is little chance we will sign a top arm we need for one year. And Jay Bruce? His trade value is exposed as zilch. With far superior free agents available and not receiving offers why would a team like the Orioles give up an arm like Brad Brach for him?
The only way the Mets can bring in a top arm for the bullpen is to deal from their prospects. A player like Brandon Nimmo or Gavin Cecchini, coupled with a lower end prospect, should be enough to score a solid 8th inning arm. The Mets cannot be afraid to go for it in 2017. While no one wants to see a Mets farmhand develop into a top player in another organization, the Mets also cannot be afraid to take that risk. If it means we have a better chance to win during the narrow window in which players like Mattt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and Noah Syndergaard are all under our control, so be it.