To Trade With a Foe!


Within the last few days, the Carlos Beltran trade rumors have heated up, with most of the heat coming from chatter that both the Phillies and Braves are interested in him. ESPNNY's Adam Rubin characterized Atlanta as being "sincerely interested" in Beltran, and while the Philly talk seems almost entirely speculation, Beltran would surely make up for the Phils' lack of a right-handed bat since Jayson Werth's departure. Whether these are among his most likely destinations is unknowable, but they're certainly the most eye-grabbing suitors for obvious reasons. The thought of the Mets dealing Beltran to an in-division team is bound to get fans' dander up.

Personally, it would hurt to see Beltran depart and go on a 2004-esque postseason tear for any team, but especially the Braves or the Phillies. I know he's almost certainly going to be traded, but the selfish fan in me just doesn't want him to be, and I definitely don't want to see him go and contribute to a World Series title for either Atlanta and Philadelphia. It would make this year's playoffs as unwatchable as 2009, aka the Root For the Meteor World Series.

Luckily, I am not in charge of the Mets. Sandy Alderson is presumably much more dispassionate about such things. He would want to trade Beltran for the best package possible regardless of who's offering it. If either the Braves or Phillies offer the best package, I can't see Alderson refusing to do a deal with them, especially since Beltran would be a pure rental and could very well leave his new team for greener pastures come winter. However, for many of these same reasons, I wonder why Atlanta or Philly would want to deal with the Mets.

The Mets' main goal in trading Beltran is not payroll relief, but to stock up on prospects. They're willing to pay most, if not all, of Beltran's salary in order to maximize their return. A trade of Beltran, ideally, makes the Mets' rebuilding process briefer and less arduous.

Why would either the Braves or Phillies want to enable this to happen?

The Braves and Phillies are not in win-now situations. The strength of both teams are their strong starting rotations. Atlanta's is younger and Philly's is otherworldly, but neither is going to be broken up any time soon. Barring injuries, both teams will be at the top of the heap in 2012. And though anything can happen between now and then, I wouldn't bet on either team falling off the map in 2013, either. They don't have to go for a big-time trade in the hopes that Beltran propels them to a championship before it's too late.

Meanwhile, the Nationals will improve in 2012 with the return of Stephen Strasburg and the (presumed) debut of Bryce Harper. The Marlins' farm system seems to produce another star every year, and their pitching is no slouch either, especially when Josh Johnson is healthy. In short, the NL East might be the strongest division in the league next year, if it isn't already. Why would the Braves and Phillies make things harder on themselves by improving a team they play 18 times a year at the expense of their own farm systems? And for just two-plus months of Beltran?

Neither team, generally speaking, goes in for these types of deadline deals. The only comparable deal Philadelphia has made in recent years came in 2009, when they gave up a lot of players to get Cliff Lee. But he was not a rental like Beltran, as he was still under contract through 2010. And even then, they flipped Lee to the Mariners in the subsequent offseason so they could restock and pursue a trade for Roy Halladay. As for the Braves, since trading for Mark Teixeira at the 2007 deadline (a move that produced very little), they've been cautious. Traditionally a team that relies on player development over free agent signings or trades, the biggest deal they made last year--in the middle of a wild card race that was far from decided--was to get Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth from Kansas City, ancillary pieces at best.

If Atlanta and Philly are reluctant to deal at the deadline in recent years, they're even more reluctant to do so with the Mets at any time. The last deal the Mets made with the Braves was the swapping-of-headaches deal that exchanged Ryan Church for Jeff Francoeur in July of 2009. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1996, when the Mets shipped Paul Byrd to Atlanta for reliever Greg McMichael. As for the Phillies, they have not done business with the Mets in almost ten years. The last trade between the two clubs came on July 27, 2001, when New York sent Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook down the Turnpike for Bruce Chen.

There are some very obvious risks involved with trading within your division, the most obvious being an angry fanbase that has to see a former prospect beat them up 18 times a year. None of these clubs has been too eager to take that risk with one another. It's the same reason the Yankees say Beltran is "not a fit" for them: because they don't want to take the chance that they might watch a product of their farm system become a star for the other team in town.

If either Philly or Atlanta offer the best deal for Beltran, I'm sure Alderson will pull the trigger. Though it will hurt to watch, I would trust his judgment. But with the Mets' farm system taking on water, why would the Braves or the Phillies offer to bail them out?

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