MLB trade deadline: What a New York Mets fire sale could actually look like

May 31, 2023; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher David Robertson (30) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
May 31, 2023; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher David Robertson (30) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports /

A good friend, and life long New York Mets fan, once told me that the Mets start out every season with the best team “on paper,” but then they have to actually play the games.

Nothing exemplifies that statement more than the 2023 version of the New York Mets. The 2022 Mets won 101 games, and finished the regular season tied with the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East, before petering out in the playoffs, losing two out of three Wild Card games to the San Diego Padres. New York was the fifth-highest scoring team last summer, and really, aside from adding catcher Omar Narvaez and outfielder Tommy Pham, the starting nine was carried over into this season as largely unchanged. But, man, if this team didn’t throw wheelbarrows full of cash at every available arm this past offseason.

Justin Verlander (two years, $86 million), Kodai Senga (five years, $75 million), and Jose Quintana (two years, $26 million) were brought in to bolster a starting rotation that already featured Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, and David Peterson. Closer Edwin Diaz was inked to a huge extension (five years, $102 million), David Robertson was given $10 million to be his setup man, and the Mets made other minor moves to fill out there bullpen around those two and Adam Ottavino. After a five-year playoff drought that saw the team finish fourth or worse three times, the New York Metropolitans were back. They had the high scoring offense, they had the rebuilt rotation that featured former Cy Young winners, and they had the lights out bullpen pieces to finish those close games.

This season started with the highest of hopes for the New York Mets … but then they had to actually play the games.

With half the season over, the Mets are crawling into the All-Star break with a 36-45 record, and are 17.5 games out of first place. FanGraphs gives them a 9.2% chance to still see the postseason, but considering they would have to jump a veteran-led Philadelphia Phillies team that appeared in the World Series just a season ago, and possibly an upstart Miami Marlins squad that continues to defy logic, that percentage may be a tad generous.

Team owner Steve Cohen gave a very candid press conference this week where he stated that while GM Billy Eppler (who is graded for 2023 here) and team manager Buck Showalter’s jobs were safe, the team’s players were being considered differently. “If they don’t get better, we have decisions to make at the trade deadline,” he said, adding that while that was not the preferred end result, the Mets were “preparing for all contingencies.”

It’s tough to point fingers at what has gone wrong and at the exact thing that stinks the most in Queens, but the offense is not where they were at last season, the starting pitching has been atrocious, and those things alone probably wouldn’t be enough to sink a team this far. Put them together, coupled with a negative run differential, a 12-15 record in one-run games and a 9-19 record games against lefty starters, and these things can start to pile up.

With the New York Mets as far back as they are, underachieving like they are, and the front office “preparing for all contingencies,” what could a deadline fire sale for this team actually look like?

The two most obvious players who could be moved are Robertson and Narvaez. Robertson has taken over the closer role in the absence of Diaz and is having his best season in years. Posting a 1.54 ERA, with a 0.97 WHIP, he’s saved 11 of 13 opportunities while striking more than a batter an inning. A free agent at the end of the year, he would be a welcomed addition to any serious playoff contender’s bullpen. Narvaez has a player option at $7 million next year, so any team interested in acquiring him would have to assume that responsibility, but with Francisco Alvarez taking over behind the plate for New York, and Tomas Nido and Michael Perez available as cheaper back-up options, it would behoove the Mets to try to squeeze as much juice out of that contract as they can. Just a year and a half removed from an All-Star season with Milwaukee, someone out there could be willing to take a chance on him at the right price.

Left fielder Mark Canha is another possible trade candidate. A career .248 hitter, with 107 home runs, he offers some nice pop, plays a decent outfield, and is also on a possibly expiring contract ($11.5 million club option for 2024). He’s another player that could join a contending team and play an important role. One of New York’s top prospects, middle infielder Ronny Mauricio, is hitting .307 for Triple-A Syracuse, he has an .863 OPS and, maybe as a sign of things to come, has been playing left field for the last couple of weeks.

Equally, Tommy Pham is a free agent at year’s end, and is having a solid season himself. He can play either corner outfield spot, and offers some home run pop, as well as an ability to steal a few bases. His .273 batting average, and .832 OPS are above his career numbers and he could play an important role for a playoff team down the stretch as well.

The last of the obvious targets would be starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco. Also in a walk year, Carassco hasn’t been quite what the Mets were hoping after going 15-7 last year with a 3.97 ERA while striking out a batter per inning. His performance this year has been subpar, to say the least, and I think a contending team might really need to be in the weeds or out of other options to explore a trade here, but it is possible.

Now that we have shed some salary, and made some room for the next wave of prospects, we need to ask the question, what is the ultimate goal? If we’re talking a full-on rebuild, you could see guys like Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander waive their no-trade clauses to end up in better situations for themselves. They each have a year remaining on their current contracts, with Verlander owning a 2025 vesting option, but if they think this is a sinking ship, both could opt to be sent elsewhere. Francisco Lindor and Brandon Nimmo are both signed through 2029, so it would appear that the Mets are married to those guys, at least for now, and someone would really have to be in love with Jeff McNeil to take on a backloaded pact that is going to see him make over $32 million in 2025 and 2026, and ditto that for Starlin Marte.

Aside from a few other relievers and 40-man guys who are still in arbitration, the biggest question, the elephant in the room if you will, is what to do with Pete Alonso. Alonso is entering his last year of arbitration, coming off his best statisical season as a pro, has 170 homers in 603 career games and is at his peak value currently. If the Mets were leaning towards a total rebuild, they could very much start that process by flipping Alonso for a load of prospects. He’s going to command an eight-plus-year extension that reaches towards $30 million a year, and that’s a ton of honeybuns. One of either Scherzer or Verlander might need to go to make room a contract like that, but if the Mets can shed Robertson, Narvaez, Pham, and Carrasco before the offseason, then an extension for the Polar Bear is a no-brainer.

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