A half-hour after the trade deadline, the Mets held a conference call and explained that they held on to their starting pitchers because they didn’t receive any satisfactory offers to trade them and—perhaps more importantly—the team wants to contend next year. Given the state of the organization, that claim sounds a little bit ridiculous, but if the Mets are serious, they have to start with something big: signing Manny Machado.
There are plenty of other holes on the roster heading into the offseason. The bullpen has been a complete mess all season. Yoenis Cespedes has joined David Wright as a long-term injury concern, even if things go super smoothly with the surgeries on his heels and the rehab process that follows. Even if Zack Wheeler has truly, finally turned a corner and remains healthy, the starting rotation has health question marks in Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz—with the very bad Jason Vargas rounding out that group of five. And even though the Mets should be able to put together a competent outfield without Cepedes, there are no sure things in the infield or behind the plate.
The Mets have a lot of work to do to make their major league team good as soon as next year, but signing Machado would give them an immediate, significant boost on an everyday basis and signal that the team’s approach to free agency and willingness to spend money to compete have really changed. It doesn’t matter that the Mets have $92.5 million on the books next year before arbitration raises hit for a bunch of their players or that the team doesn’t factor insurance money received for David Wright’s or Yoenis Cespedes’s contracts back into payroll. There’s only $58 million in guaranteed money on the books for 2020, and the Mets have absolutely no payroll obligations beyond that season.
What’s sad is that the Mets signing Machado seems so incredibly unlikely. The recently-turned-26-year-old is one of the very best players in baseball and will be one of the rare players to hit the open market at such a young age. Over the course of his career, Machado has hit .283/.336/.487 with 164 home runs, playing shortstop and third base along the way. He’s gotten better as he’s gotten older and more experienced, too. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, he’s hit .286/.347/.514 with 131 home runs and a 130 OPS+. And this year, he has a .314/.391/.567 line with a 151 OPS+. The Mets bringing him in for the long term would be a move of Piazza-esque magnitude.
There are other things the team could do to complement that sort of move. With the starting pitchers all retained, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and maybe even Zack Wheeler should get real offers of contract extensions to lock down a top of the rotation that would be the foundation of a perennial contender. And real money should be spent in other areas of free agency to address needs, especially since the team’s farm system doesn’t have all that many near-major-league-ready players in it. If all of these things are happening, top prospects in the lower ranks of the minors should be on the table to bring in current major league talent that can help the Mets now, too.
No Mets fan expects any of these things to happen, but the team could start to win trust and enthusiasm back by making a real commitment to contention by spending significant money on elite talent—something the Mets have shied away from far too frequently in the past. They might even win some ballgames, too.