Robinson Canó was sort of the symbol of Brodie Van Wagenen’s tumultuous tenure as Mets general manager. He was acquired, along with his large contract, in a massive deal alongside Edwin Díaz in exchange for Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, Gerson Bautista, Anthony Swarzak, and Jay Bruce. It was a controversial trade at the time that has been bandied about for years since, given the steep prospect cost it took to acquire the aging and expensive Canó and the volatile Díaz.
Now, nearly four years later, Canó was DFA’d by the Mets last week, ending his time in Queens. So with Canó’s side of the trade wrapped up, it gives us an opportunity to take a look back at the trade once again and how it’s working out for both sides to this point.
Since Canó’s release was the big news this week, it’s easiest to start with him. As Thomas Henderson noted last week, the 17-year veteran’s Mets tenure did not go as well as anyone hoped. Canó never quite lived up to his salary, but his strong 2020 season does help boost his overall numbers with the Mets. In total, he hit .269/.315/.450 in orange and blue, which was good for a 106 OPS+. He accumulated 1.2 bWAR and 1.9 fWAR across parts of three seasons in Queens, and he missed all of 2021 after getting suspended for using PEDs. So while it was far from the best case scenario, and not worth the salary the Mets took on, Canó’s time with the Mets wasn’t completely valueless, either. He was productive for parts of 2019 and was arguably the team’s best hitter in the shortened 2020 season, and the Mets at least got out of paying his 2021 salary, even though they might’ve been able to use his bat in the lineup.
The Mets are now stuck eating nearly $40 million of Cano’s contract over the next two seasons. However, the team now being owned by Steve Cohen helps soften that blow since he can still afford to spend around that.
The real prize for the Mets was Díaz. You never want to give up premium prospects for relief pitching, but the team’s lack of ability to develop relievers over the last decade put them in a position where they needed to go outside of the organization to find an elite closer, and they chose Díaz.
The fireballing reliever’s first season with the Mets was an unquestionable disaster, as the slick 2019 baseball made it difficult for him to grip his slider, leading to poor command and a ton of home runs allowed. In the three seasons since then, however, Díaz has thrown 100.1 innings for the Mets with a 2.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 2.47 FIP while striking out 38.8% of hitters faced and only allowing seven home runs over that span. In total, the 28-year-old closer has put up 2.3 bWAR and 3.1 fWAR with the Mets, and given that he looks tremendous early on this season, he seems likely to continue adding to those numbers in his final year of team control.
It’s been a stressful ride with Díaz, and he’s had some blowups, but overall he has been basically the very good-to-elite relief pitcher the Mets hoped they were getting ever since he could start throwing his slider again. He has made a strong case for a potential contract extension this offseason.
On the other side, Kelenic was the big get for Seattle, and he proved why early on. He surged up three levels of the Mariners’ minor league system in 2019 and emerged as one of the best prospects in baseball. With Kelenic on the rise while Díaz and Canó were both having lackluster 2019 seasons, this trade started looking like it could be one of the worst in Mets history if Kelenic turned into the star he could be.
Since his much-anticipated major league debut in 2021, though, Kelenic has been one of the worst everyday players in baseball. Through 461 plate appearances at the big league level, Kelenic is hitting just .175/.258/.345, which amounts to a 72 wRC+. He had an encouraging September last year in which he posted a 135 wRC+, but the 22-year-old has taken all kinds of steps back this year. He’s currently hitting a brutal .146/.226/.320 on the season and running a 36.9% strikeout rate, and the most concerning part is that he’s not even chasing at an abnormally high rate. Kelenic’s chase rate is in the 47th percentile—which is roughly average—but he is just not hitting pitches he should. His zone contact% is a dreadful 71.9%, which is currently third-worst mark in baseball among hitters with at least 80 PAs. His whiff rate is also an astronomical 16.1%. Essentially, he’s just swinging through pitches in the strike zone, which makes him a much more difficult fix than a young hitter that is simply chasing a lot.
On top of that, Kelenic just has not been hitting the ball all that well this year:
The dark blues are bad. To make matters worse, Kelenic proved nearly unplayable in center field last year with a -16 DRS, -13.4 UZR/150, and a 22nd percentile OAA. He’s been moved to right field this year, where he’s faring much better, but that is another ding on his value.
So far, Kelenic has been worth -1.5 total bWAR and -0.2 fWAR in his brief career. Obviously, there is still time for the young outfielder to turn it around; he’s only 22 and has all the talent in the world. But players who are this bad through as many PAs as he’s received very rarely turn into productive players, and now Kelenic has an even higher offensive standard to meet as a corner outfielder.
Justin Dunn, for his part, wasn’t exactly a difference-maker for Seattle either, as he made 25 starts across three seasons for the Mariners to a nice 3.75 ERA, but he has also walked over 6 batters per nine. Dunn was more of a 6th starter for the Mariners before getting traded to the Reds as part of the package for Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker this past offseason. He is currently on the 60-day IL with a shoulder strain.
Swarzak and Bruce did not provide much for the Mariners in their half-seasons there, and Bautista only pitched 9 innings for them in 2019 and is now in the Mexican League, so the main trade analysis here is Canó and Díaz for Kelenic. And as of right now, the Mets are coming out on the better end of that deal, money aside. There is still time for Kelenic to turn it around and make the Mets regret trading him, but he also doesn’t appear to be making any strides in that direction, and the Mariners’ leash with him is getting shorter; they are starting to pinch hit for him more frequently late in games, and 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is also on a rehab assignment and could take Kelenic’s everyday job upon his return.
Even with Canó’s DFA earlier this week, the trade Van Wagenen will always be famous for is no longer looking to be the historic disaster that it once was thanks to Díaz returning to form and Kelenic being a major bust so far. There’s still a lot of time left for Kelenic and at least 5 months left of Díaz on the Mets to change things, but there’s a decent chance now that the Mets could actually wind up WAR-positive on this trade. That’s not to say anyone should make a habit out of trading top prospects for relief pitching, but the Mets might have gotten away with this one in the end.