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Mets Muddle the Trade Deadline


Thought to be sellers, the New York Mets were 52 -55 at the MLB trade deadline, putting them 11 games back in NL East, and 4.5 games back in the Wild Card race. But the Mets continued to confound their fan base by not only failing to sell the valuable assets that everyone assumed that they would but also by buying someone else's. Not a true buyer and definitely not a seller, New York instead used misdirection by doing neither.

For their first trick, the magical Mets made Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman disappear from the trade market on July 28, even though the favorites to land Stroman appeared to be actual contenders like the Dodgers and Astros. Some thought that perhaps they just saw a good deal and were going to turn around and flip Stroman for more assets. But no, instead, New York only shipped Jason Vargas to Philadelphia the next day as well as holding tight to Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, even though many thought both would be moved.

And so it was last week that the Metropolitan Baseball Club took a look at the man in the trade deadline mirror and declared themselves contenders. And in doing so shattered the fantasy dreams of Syndergaard the Astro, Tucker the Met, and others.

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A Pretender Looking Back

With a starting rotation of Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Matz, and Stroman, there are certainly worlds where they can carry the Mets to the playoffs this year or next with a core offense of Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and Michael Conforto. But they'll need everyone to stay healthy as well - a big ask given the injury history of the staff - because New York's finances will likely still be hamstrung given that they'll owe a combined 85 million to Cano, Familia, Lowrie, Cespedes, and Wright.

Regardless of what the future holds for the Mets' championship aspirations this year and beyond, what really matters is how their moves and lack of moves affected everyone's fantasy teams for this year and beyond. What are the realities for Stroman, Wheeler, and Syndergaard now that Gotham is their home for at least the next two months?

 

What Could Have Been

In the timeline where none of the aforementioned pitchers are currently Mets, their future would obviously be unique to their new home (whether it be the Astros, Dodgers, Tampa, etc), but in a general sense, all three would've likely seen some fantasy bumps just simply because they weren't on the Mets anymore. But to be fair, whoever was traded to Houston would almost inevitably get chosen as the favorite to succeed. New York does have Citi Field and it's 93 Park Factor in its favor, but they also come with the league's worst infield defense, as well.  Not just worst, but worst by far if using Defense Runs Saved as the measurement, with the Met's -32 DRS making them last by a full ten runs over the next lowest team.

With that substandard defense, it's Stroman who gets hurt the most by the Mets decision to be lukewarm buyers, as his 55.4% groundball-rate is the fifth-highest among qualified starters this year. And that mark is actually low compared to his career average of 60%, which would lead the majors this year by a margin of 2.5% over the current leader, Dakota Hudson. Just like fantasy owners, Stroman probably watched former teammate Aaron Sanchez combine for a no-hitter with his new team and wondered about alternate timelines where he gets that magical Houston pitching dust instead.

So now dynasty owners can now only imagine which prospects would've been on the move if New York had decided to trade Syndergaard and - to a lesser extent- Wheeler. Would Kyle Tucker get moved and finally get a chance to play every day? Would the Dodgers give up Gavin Lux? Now we'll never know, and we may not have found out even if Syndergaard had been traded because post-deadline reports had the Mets not wanting prospect packages for their stars. Instead, they were stalling deals by making high demands on major-league players, like when they wanted Byron Buxton included in any deal with the Twins; which Minnesota was never willing to do because Buxton is still only 26 and has has been one of the best centerfielders in baseball basically ever since he stepped on the field.

 

The Riskiest Timeline

It has been reported that a dozen people interviewed for the Mets general manager job and that 11 of the 12 recommended a rebuild of some sort, with only Brody van Wagenen dissenting. Through that prism, it is easier to understand the Mets' deadline behavior:

  • They traded for Stroman because he's an upgrade from Jason Vargas (presumably), affordable, and has another year of team control - as the team believes their competitive window is open in 2020
  • They held on to Wheeler because no one would meet their high price for an injury-prone rental, as Wheeler is a free agent at season's end. Teams may have been prudent in not meeting New York's price but the Mets may have been wise as well to hold on to him because they can now make him a qualifying offer at year's end which will either will net them draft-pick compensation or a one-year contract with Wheeler at around $18 million. This is probably an acceptable cost if you think you can win in 2020. With the non-signings of Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel this past off-season, Wheeler could find it in his best interest to take the guaranteed money or may even feel pressured to sign a team-friendly extension.
  • A healthy Syndergaard can be one of the best pitchers in baseball - even though he currently has a career-high 3.96 ERA - and is under team control for two more years, which is why the Mets balked at trading him when their demands were not met to their satisfaction. Since New York thinks they're competing in 2020 then they're only going to trade Syndergaard if it's more of a lateral move in terms of current Major League value. But holding onto Thor also means holding his risk, as his UCL might as well be a ticking time bomb given his injury history and elite velocity.

 

Rolling the Dice

With both their moves and lack of moves at the trade deadline, New York announced very clearly that they were not rebuilding this year. Maybe they weren't in complete win-now mode, but they were certainly in win-soon. But isn't this a rerun, with the Mets counting on elite pitching to stay healthy and carry them this year and next?

Make no mistake, this is a rotation that has the talent to do so. But counting on any pitching rotation staying healthy is a risky move, let alone a staff with the injury history of these Mets. By refusing to rebuild and thus holding on to all of their chips, it is a dangerous game that Brodie van Wagenen is playing. So dangerous, in fact, that it could be adapted into a 1994 thriller starring Ice T and Gary Busey. And everyone knows that it's unlikely that anything good ever comes of that.

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