Should The Mets Have Behaved Differently At The Trade Deadline?

I'm not sure what to make of the 2011 Mets, and I suspect Sandy Alderson and his staff found themselves in a similar quandary as the 31 July trade deadline approached — and then passed. All told, the Mets made just two deals: they traded Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers three weeks ago for a couple of players still to be named, and they dealt Carlos Beltran to the Giants last week for Zack Wheeler.

The first of those deals didn't appreciably hurt the Mets' chances of doing whatever it is they're going to do this season with respect to the Wild Card race. Rodriguez is a fine closer, but the drop-off from him to Jason Isringhausen (or whomever) is hardly noticeable, and at the very least it was worth it just to get out from under Rodriguez's terrifying 2012 vesting option, which option has since been negotiated away by Scott Boras in favor of a slightly larger buyout from Milwaukee.

The second deal definitely hurts the Mets in the short term, as the difference between Beltran and, say, Justin Turner (assuming Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy are regulars with or without Beltran, so in Beltran's absence Duda shifts to right, Murphy to first, and Turner from the bench to second) is considerable, plus the defensive difference between Beltran and Duda in right can't be overstated.

On balance, the 2011 Mets are certainly worse than if they hadn't made any trades at all, but should they have behaved differently at the deadline? That is, should they have sold off all of their other nonessential major leaguers and emphatically turned the page to 2012? Or, should they have made a minor deal or two to better position this team to make a run at the Wild Card in a race without an obvious Goliath? Sandy Alderson has already said that he made a few phone calls in an effort to bring in another bullpen arm for the stretch run, but obviously found either the pitchers on offer or the demands thereof to be something short of desirable.

I think the Mets played this one perfectly, with Alderson using an even-handed approach to add a top-shelf starter to the farm system while avoiding a complete thrashing of the big league team, which latter accomplishes two things:

  1. It keeps clubhouse morale from being torpedoed by an overt surrender of the 2011 season; and
  2. It keeps fans interested — to whatever extent they were already interested — enough to continue watching games, buying tickets, and so forth.

The corollary to #1 is that Jose Reyes, whose re-signing will be the team's top priority this offseason, doesn't feel like Alderson has given up on him or this team and will hopefully carry whatever good will that created into his contract negotiations when the season ends.

Ignoring these benefits of a laissez-faire trade deadline approach and instead embracing a thoroughgoing capitulation to the Mets' narrowing playoff hopes, Alderson could probably have brought back some organizational filler for free-agents-to-be Isringhausen, Tim Byrdak, Scott Hairston, and Willie Harris, but in so doing he would have waved the white flag for 2011, possibly lost the team and its fans in the process, and all for what? Some mid-level minor league depth?

No, that would have been far worse. In the end, Alderson improved the 2013 Mets at a moderate expense to the 2011 team, while leaving the latter intact enough to make the next two months interesting. Despite their current four-game losing streak — the last three of which were sealed in their opponents' last turns at bat — the Mets remain 7.5 games back of the Braves with six games against the Wild Card leaders between now and 1 September. Their playoff odds are long and the remaining schedule is only getting shorter, but in staking his claim to the middle ground, Alderson has kept an eye on the future without completely abandoning hope for the present.

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