Despite going into sell mode and shipping out their closer and starting first baseman, the Mets held on to Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Jay Bruce, and Asdrubal Cabrera through the non-waiver trade deadline on Monday. There was close to no interest in any of the four bats, with the only nibble coming from the Brewers on Granderson a few days ago.
In a vacuum, the inability to trade any of these bats is unsurprising—one need look no further than the underwhelming return for star slugger J.D. Martinez to see that the market for rental bats was extremely weak this season. Furthermore, all four of Cabrera, Walker, Granderson, and Bruce have large enough salaries that a trade through waivers sometime in August is viable. However, leaving these four veterans untraded does prompt some questions.
First, let’s talk about Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera voiced his displeasure earlier this season when he was moved off shortstop, and his presence (and potential impacts on the locker room) has been oft-cited as a reason to keep Amed Rosario in the minors. But despite Cabrera still being on the active roster, Rosario is set to join the Mets in Colorado, as moving Cabrera to third is now enough to create room for Rosario.
One has to question the Mets’ line of thinking here. According to scouts, Rosario has looked ready for months, and the left side of the Mets’ infield has been a disaster on both sides of the ball. There’s little to no service time saved by bringing up Rosario now as opposed to after the Super 2 deadline, either. The Mets also moved Cabrera away from shortstop some time ago, so it’s not as if a position is suddenly opening for Rosario.
Additionally, there’s been some speculation that the Mets view Cabrera as a potential option at third base next season. Cabrera had almost no experience at the hot corner before 2017, and the defensive metrics aren’t pretty in an extremely small sample. Moreover, his league-average 100 wRC+ isn’t an inspiring output from a corner infield spot. Paying $8.75 million to either a mediocre third baseman or a backup middle infielder is an uninspiring proposition, so hopefully the Mets are able to move on from Cabrera sometime in the next month.
The other veteran that merits some discussion is Jay Bruce. The Mets have been trying to trade Bruce for months, but found no takers in the offseason and none at the deadline, despite Bruce’s 27 home runs and 122 wRC+. It now seems likely that the Mets will make Bruce a qualifying offer this offseason, as the second-round pick they’d receive is more valuable than anything they’d get on the August trade market. And, by all accounts, Bruce is almost certain to decline said offer, as he’s been looking forward to free agency for a while.
However, the lack of a trade market for Bruce’s services does not portend good things for his upcoming free agency. Seemingly the only team that values his powerful, defensively limited profile (strong single-season defensive metrics from 2017 notwithstanding) is the Mets. Sandy Alderson has also said he could see Michael Conforto playing center field long-term, which would open up a spot in the corner outfield for Bruce to return to the Mets. At this point, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to expect Bruce back in flushing in 2017.
While it’s somewhat surprising that the Mets couldn’t find a taker for Bruce, even in this market, it’s not as surprising that they failed to find a match for Neil Walker. Walker has made only three starts since returning from a lengthy stay on the disabled list with a torn hamstring, and no contenders have a real need at second base. Walker has the largest salary of the four veterans that weren’t moved, so shipping him out through waivers shouldn’t be a problem.
That being said, Walker is arguably the free agent the Mets should be most interested in retaining. Running out an infield of Wilmer Flores, Rosario, T.J. Rivera, and Dominic Smith is a sketchy proposition, and Walker provides a proven offensive presence at what should be a relatively affordable cost. It would not be terribly surprising to see Walker stick out the year with the Mets and return in free agency in 2018.