It’s not been a fast start to the season, but the Mets remain a talented team that figures to feature prominently in the playoff picture. Nevertheless, there are holes on the roster that could probably use filling. Early season trades are rare, but they do happen, and it doesn’t hurt to start scouring the market early for potential trade candidates. Right now, there are two areas the Mets should be targeting; the bullpen and the infield.
The bullpen’s lack of depth hasn’t been exposed yet in what has been an encouraging start, but there’s still a lot of injury and performance risk tied up in Edwin Díaz, Miguel Castro, Jeurys Familia, and Seth Lugo. Adding another late inning option or two could make this group potentially dominant and help hedge against any regression. On the infield, J.D. Davis has looked particularly inept defensively at third base so far, and while he’s not useless if he’s hitting, he’s probably the worst regular in the lineup. An upgrade or, at the very least, an additional option for second or third could be of use.
Unsurprisingly, finding bullpen options is fairly easy on the trade market, and there are already a number of options on bad teams—or teams that will be bad by the time trade season arrives. Starting in the National League, Richard Rodriguez of the Pirates is off to a fast start with a perfect ERA and three saves through 9.1 IP. His strikeouts are down a bit from the stupendous 13.11 K/9 he posted last season, but he’s throwing more strikes than ever before and maintaining a pristine BB%. He’s also added more break to his slider this season, though he’s thrown it less than in previous seasons so far.
The Cubs are another team that bears mentioning, despite sweeping the Mets last week. Assuming they fall out of the race as the season goes on, Craig Kimbrel would be an interesting target, as he seems somewhat revitalized in the early going. He’s using his curveball more than ever before and dominating with it, though his control still remains questionable and he’s due a whopping $32 million over the next two seasons. Rex Brothers is another name on the Cubs that’s worth monitoring if he can maintain his comeback effort as the season goes on.
In the NL West, the Rockies have two options in Daniel Bard and Mychal Givans. Bard has been quite good if you look past his BABIP-inflated ERA, while Givens has skated buy with some major luck as his velocity declined the last two seasons. I’d argue that makes Bard by far the more appealing option. Jake McGee of the Giants (someone the Mets should’ve signed themselves in the offseason) and Joakim Soria of the Diamondbacks (same, though he’s now dealing with a calf injury) both bear monitoring as well, though it’s less clear that San Francisco or Arizona will look to sell. If either of these vets become available, the Mets would be wise to rectify an offseason miss.
Heading to the American League, the Orioles have several intriguing options. Cesar Valdez, a 36-year-old from the Mexican league who was originally signed by the Diamondbacks back in 2006, has been excellent so far as a closer. He was solid last year as well, but the track record is obviously extremely limited. Tanner Scott and Paul Fry are younger (26 and 28 respectively), left-handed options with significant team control remaining, making them more intriguing and also more expensive. Scott is your classic relief arm—high-90s fastball, slider, questionable control—while Fry fits more into the “crafty lefty” trope with a low-90s fastball and two offspeed pitches he mixes in.
Unfortunately, the rest of the AL is a mess in terms of identifying sellers. The Rangers and Tigers are the two obvious bottom feeders, but neither has much in the way of appealing relief options. Former Mets prospect Michael Fulmer is having something of a resurgence, as is Ian Kennedy for the Rangers. Neither strikes me as particularly reliable, however, given the former’s health issues and the latter’s sky-high hard hit rate. Matt Barnes of the Red Sox, Lou Trivino of the A’s, and Kendall Graveman of the Mariners all merit consideration if their teams fall out of contention, but currently they sit at the top of their respective divisions. Check back here in a couple months when things are more settled.
Here’s where things get tricky. While J.D. Davis is not an ideal starter at third base, he’s by no means a disastrous one so long as he’s hitting. That’s not a sure proposition by any means, but it’s one he’s made good on so far. In other words, the Mets can’t just trade for a warm body at the hot corner or second base (shifting McNeil to third) and have it be an upgrade—they need to acquire an actually good player. And that player needs to be on a bad team willing to trade them. Simply put, there aren’t a ton of names that fit the bill.
Kris Bryant is probably at the front of your mind as you read this, and he’s certainly the player that the Mets have been connected to the most. The former MVP is off to a red hot start and with a poor roster around him that will probably send the Cubs to the bottom of the NL Central, it seems like a matter of when, not if, the Cubs will trade him. That said, acquiring Bryant would likely push the Mets above the luxury tax, something they’ve been seemingly unwilling to do. Additionally, the asking price has reportedly been high—Mets prospect Francisco Alvarez was the most commonly connected name in rumors—and it’s reasonable to balk at that price for a rental player. If the Cubs’ demands in terms of prospects come down, the tax hit is well worth taking. If not, this probably isn’t an avenue worth pursuing, even if it would be fun on paper.
Beyond Bryant, the names get real thin real fast. Evan Longoria is off to a hot start, but as stated earlier it’s not clear that the Giants will be sellers. Ditto Eduardo Escobar on the Diamondbacks. Kyle Seager on the Mariners could be a fit, but he’s a borderline franchise icon. A reunion with the rejuvenated Jed Lowrie probably isn’t in the cards even if the A’s do tumble down the standings. Matt Chapman is a fun name to dream on, but even if the A’s were struggling I’m not sure they’d move him.
All of those names come from teams that are currently contending. Going to the real bottom feeders, there’s basically no one that profiles as a real upgrade. The Orioles are starting Maikel Franco and Rio Ruiz. The Tigers, Jeimer Candelario and Niko Goodrum. Ryan McMahon is too much of a building block for the Rockies to move. That leaves someone like Adam Frazier of the Pirates, an offensively limited player whose glove work hasn’t graded very well. Simply put, I think J.D. Davis is as good or better than all of these names.
To be brief, the Mets need help in the bullpen and could explore an infield upgrade. There are a plethora of options for the ‘pen—Tanner Scott would be my preferred target at the moment—but almost nothing particularly viable in terms of infield upgrades once you get past Kris Bryant. A touch grim, but there’s plenty of time for the landscape to change and new options to become available over the coming months.