The New York Mets were already buried deep in the standings before their four-game series at Dodger Stadium this week, but the Dodgers exposed just how far New York is from being a good team.
L.A. outscored the Mets by a cumulative 25 runs in the sweep, and the Dodgers hit more homers (15) over the four games than the Mets scored runs (11). When the Mets sparred with Yasiel Puig over the length of time required for him to circle the bases on Tuesday, part of Wilmer Flores' explanation was about the context of Puig’s celebration. "We're playing horrible, I know. But we don’t need this s---."
The front office's decision to sell off older parts of the team’s engine for whatever value can be extracted is an acknowledgment of reality. According to FanGraphs, the Mets’ chances to make the playoffs on Sunday morning stood at 6.4 percent, a number that does not reflect the additional injuries that will beset this team in August and September because, well, they’re the Mets.
By planting the "For Sale" signs now, the Mets are trying to get a jump on a market that has just a few sellers at the moment. The White Sox and Padres have been open for business, the Marlins began working to dump the salaries of the likes of David Phelps and Adeiny Hechavarria earlier this week, and shortly after the news broke of the Mets’ intention to sell, Tigers general manager Al Avila offered a similar pronouncement that he’s ready to take offers. Detroit is just seven games out of a wild-card spot but has been playing terribly.
Mets reliever Addison Reed is probably the most attractive of the team’s tradable assets because of all that he provides: He’s experienced with 369 big league games, he has the ability to close games, he’s pitching well now, he’s effective against both left- and right-handed hitters, and he doesn’t have an obtrusive contract, with about $4 million remaining on a deal that expires at the end of the season.
As written here last week, it could be a difficult summer for teams attempting to market position players -- like the Mets, now -- because so many of the contenders don’t have needs in that area. The Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Astros and Cubs would probably prioritize pitching, and the holes of some contenders are very particular -- third base for the Red Sox, perhaps, and maybe first base for the Yankees, if Greg Bird doesn’t show progress from his prolonged absence over the next few weeks.
But the Mets have proven commodities. Jay Bruce is probably an All-Star candidate in a year in which he’s hit 19 homers and built an OPS of almost .900. The 36-year-old Curtis Granderson, a streaky and greatly respected veteran less than two years from a spectacular performance in the 2015 playoffs, could draw interest, although the Mets will almost certainly have to pay down a lot of his remaining salary (about $8 million), especially in a buyers’ market. Asdrubal Cabrera said Friday that he wants out after being asked to play second base, but some rival evaluators say Cabrera’s athleticism has abandoned him, and he turns 32 this fall.
Lucas Duda's power could make him an option to a club like the Yankees, but his injury history is daunting. Neil Walker is expected to be out until the All-Star break with a hamstring injury, and it isn’t until then that teams can seriously evaluate him as a trade option. In 60 games this season, he has batted .270/.352/.468, but he’s making $17.2 million this year after accepting the qualifying offer, and there may be more sellers in the second-base market than buyers. Although Walker might make an intriguing possibility for a team seeking first-base help.
What lies ahead for the Mets may well turn out to be a quick retooling rather than a rebuild, and with just a little good fortune, they could be back in the playoff hunt in 2018. They could go into next season with a nice core of players: starting pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo; outfielders Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, who could fill the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the lineup; top shortstop prospect Amed Rosario, who could be summoned in the last weeks of this season before taking over the position for years to come; and first baseman Dominic Smith, if the Mets deem him to be ready to be called up as well. If the Mets don’t trade lefty Jerry Blevins and choose instead to pick up his option for 2018 -- the most likely scenario -- he could complement Jeurys Familia, who will be returning from injury.
The Mets also should have a lot of payroll flexibility as veterans like Granderson depart, which would give them the money to address possible holes at second base, center field and the bullpen. Terry Collins' contract is set to expire in the fall and the only real question seems to be whether he leaves on his own terms or the Mets usher him out the door at the end of what has been a successful run as manager.
One of the more complicated decisions ahead for the Mets is what to do with Matt Harvey. If they remain tethered to what might be possible, they could hold him through the rest of this season and hope that he devotes himself to re-establishing his greatness. "I bet that’s what happens," said an MLB manager recently. "He’s a free agent in the fall, and he’ll work like hell in the offseason and have a great year."
But given the Mets’ working knowledge of Harvey, his off-field habits and his declining performance, nobody would blame the front office if it chose to turn the page and dump Harvey in a trade or perhaps even decline to tender him a contract in the fall. Harvey has made a total of 59 starts since the end of the 2013 season, and over the past two years, he’s thrown 162⅓ innings, allowing 178 hits and 24 homers, and he has a 5.05 ERA and just 130 strikeouts. His velocity is diminished, although a lot of evaluators believe he can make do with 92-93 mph, if not necessarily dominate.
The Mets are well-stocked in starting pitching, so they aren’t desperately clinging to Harvey. In fact, they know that one way or another -- even if he rebounds -- he will be with another team in 2019 at the latest.
Around the league
The St. Louis Cardinals are hanging at the edge of the playoff races, five games behind the Brewers in the NL Central with the two NL wild-card spots probably out of reach. If the Cardinals decide to focus on 2018 and join the list of sellers, they would be like the Giants in that they don’t necessarily have a lot of attractive pieces to move. One player with whom they would have some leverage might be infielder Jedd Gyorko, who is having a really good season, hitting .291 with an .850 OPS. He also has improved markedly on defense: The only third baseman with more defensive runs saved than Gyorko this year is Nolan Arenado.
Gyorko is making $6 million this year, $9 million next year and $13 million in 2019, with a $13 million club option for 2020, but $7.5 million of that guaranteed money for 2017-19 is being paid by the Padres. The Cardinals might now view the 28-year-old Gyorko as a very affordable part of their solution moving forward, but his trade value is probably close to peak right now, and he might be someone coveted by the Red Sox or Yankees -- teams that have good prospects to offer. Some of the Gyorko discussion could eventually be tied to Aledmys Diaz, who has been the Cardinals’ shortstop this year. Some rival evaluators don’t see him as an everyday player at that position -- he ranks last among shortstops in DRS -- and if the St. Louis front office shares that view, the Cardinals would have to move Diaz to either another spot, or another team.
With J.T. Riddle fully established as the Marlins' shortstop of the future, Miami has been looking to dump shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, a strong defender who has never posted an OPS of .700 in any of his six seasons. He makes $4.35 million this year, and some rival evaluators believe that he will be a strong non-tender candidate in the fall.
The Orioles were among the teams that the Marlins spoke with about Hechavarria, and in theory, there could be a fit because Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy just suffered a broken bone and is expected to miss at least a month. But the perception of the Marlins is that, in order for a trade to work for Baltimore, the Orioles would have to shed a comparable salary in the deal. Translated: Baltimore doesn’t currently have payroll flexibility.
Joey Votto began Saturday’s game ranked seventh in MLB in lowest strikeout percentage (11.0), and seventh in MLB in slugging percentage (.595). Think about that.
Baseball Tonight Podcast
On the podcast this week:
Friday: Karl Ravech and Justin Havens discuss the pre-eminence of the NL West teams, and Aaron Judge’s hesitation over the Home Run Derby; Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald talks about the Marlins’ midseason sell-off and the sale of the team; Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star evaluates the surge of the Royals and why they probably won’t sell.
Thursday: Jerry Crasnick talks about the Braves’ rationale in considering a move of Freddie Freeman to first base; A.J. Hinch speaks with Jessica Mendoza about the philosophy of defensive shifts, particularly against right-handed hitters; and Negro Leagues Museum president Bob Kendrick shares news about the newly formed alliance with the players' association and MLB, his favorite piece of memorabilia, and a great Hank Aaron story.
Tuesday: Keith Law; Marly Rivera evaluates the Gleyber Torres injury and its impact on the Yankees; Sarah Langs of ESPN Research plays the Numbers Game.
Monday: Boog Sciambi has strong feelings about the way closers are held back until the ninth inning; Jim Kaat talks about the pace of action, a pitch clock and shares a tremendous Sandy Koufax story from the 1965 World Series; Todd Radom’s uniform and logo quiz, and the 14th-best logo of all time.
And today will be better than yesterday.