The trade deadline came and went and the Mets failed to make a big splash, much to the chagrin of the fanbase.
No Contreras, Robertson, J.D. Martinez, and the list goes on and on.
Instead the Mets did their deals a little bit earlier, and took the depth over flash approach in order to save prospects and not overpay on a rental. There is a train of thought that the prospects that would've been necessary to grab someone like Robertson and Contreras, would've been a minor sting to the farm system. The opposite thought process being that trading higher prospects away routinely doesn't help in the long run for anyone.
Another way of thinking about the Mets being frugal is that after the Cubs burned the Mets for Pete Crow-Armstrong to grab less than ideal Javy Baez, it showed that other teams could try to pull the same higher prospect return for their own players. As the trade deadline started to roll, the Mets stayed quiet. Reports began to circulate that the asking price for Contreras was sky high, with some suspecting that it involved prized top prospect Francisco Alvarez. Other reports concluded that the Red Sox were possibly asking for a top 5 prospect, a major leaguer, and another piece for J.D. Martinez. Both would've been laughable trades had the Mets given up top 5 prospects again for rental players.
Instead the Mets made minor moves in the acquisition of the Great Slambino, Daniel Vogelbach, Tyler Naquin, as well as Mychal Givens, and Darin Ruf. The only move that seemed good enough for Mets fans was always the next one, until that next one never came.
Vogelbach and Ruf both strengthened the DH platoons for both sides over the likes of J.D. Davis and Dom Smith. Naquin added speed, a solid bat, and solid defense, which rendered the services of Travis Jankowski complete. First outing not withstanding, Mychal Givens wasn't the left handed reliever everyone was hoping for, but he was a solid addition to the bullpen who had been shaky before getting to Ottavino and Diaz.
The Mets deciding not to splash on a big name raises multiple questions, some that we'll breakdown here. Whether it be for this year, next year, or the next few years, the Mets' eyebrow raising trade deadline certainly was a storyline that made the trade deadline both infuriating at times, and exciting.
1. What was with that trade for Darin Ruf?
The Mets were extra cautious about overpaying and trading away a number of prospects, namely Mark Vientos, Ronny Mauricio, and Alvarez. So what happened with that trade for Ruf? By most accounts, everyone was waiting for them to name a second player headed to the Mets. The trade totaled J.D. Davis, Thomas Szapucki, Nick Zwack, and Carson Seymour for Darin Ruf.
J.D. Davis was one of two expected to be moved along with Dom Smith, more on him later. But one would assume that Davis and Szapucki would be enough to land someone like Ruf, wouldn't it? Szapucki was the pitcher the Giants saw firsthand as they shellacked him for 9 runs, but Zwack and Seymour were two young arms that are in single A.
If the Mets were so cautious about overpaying, why go that far to nab a platoon DH like Ruf? His numbers are skewed because the Giants were playing him more often, hence the .216 average. But a .216 average doesn't exactly command top return even in a sellers market. This was the one panned trade that the Mets made because of how much they gave up. But this could also lend to the theory that teams were asking more from the Mets. Szapucki probably didn't add much to the trade, and 2021 draft picks along with J.D. Davis should put that into a little bit more perspective.
2. What does this mean for Dominic Smith?
Vogelbach and Ruf provide clear upgrades over Smith at the plate. Can you really carry what amounts to 4 first basemen? Pete has the position locked down. Vogelbach and Ruf are basically DH or bust for now. Smith was looking for more playing time, it significantly got cut down with the trades that were made.
So what happens with Smith? Releasing him seems ridiculous considering the quest for depth. Keeping him in AAA gets him his playing time, just not in the NY area he would prefer. So what is there to do with him?
The only logical answer is to leave him in Syracuse after his rehab assignment is up. After the season is over, find a trade partner for him considering he should be able to bring his value back up while hitting in AAA. The Mets probably considered all of the possible scenarios when making the trades for players like Vogelbach and Ruf, but it does present and interesting scenario if they decide to bring him back to the majors. How do you really split a DH role three ways? Or four ways considering Dom would probably still see time at first base? The short answer is: You can't.
3. Why not go after Contreras even if it means overpaying?
The Mets weakest spot in the lineup has seemed to be catcher for quite some time. So with renewed hope, the Mets fanbase reached frenzy levels when it was rumored that they'd be going after Willson Contreras along with David Robertson from the Cubs. However, things didn't go as planned. Whether that be because the asking price was ridiculously high, or whether or not they just couldn't match up on a reasonable asking price, the Mets didn't make any significant move to add offense to the lineup at the catcher position.
Contreras is a free agent after this season, and the Cubs could've nailed down a decent return for him at the deadline. From the Mets perspective, Contreras would've given them an offensive bat at the position that has been sorely lacking out of Nido, McCann, and Mazieka. There's no guarantee that he will resign with Chicago now that they didn't trade him, there's no guarantee that he would've resigned in New York, or that the Mets would've wanted to. With Francisco Alvarez in AAA, and GM Eppler saying it's not in their thought process right now, signing someone like Contreras to a longer term deal that he will most likely be fishing for in the offseason probably wouldn't help much. Alvarez has started to catch fire as of late in AAA, so it's not completely out of the realm of possibility that he does find his way up to the big leagues before season's end. Until then, James McCann and his job security are safe alongside Tomas Nido and his defensive prowess. But there are reasons not to force trades, part of which is Alvarez being so close. Why overpay for Contreras if you're not going to keep him long term?
4. Which big name prospects were probably on the line?
The prospects that had rumors around them the entire time were Alvarez, Baty, Vientos, Mauricio. The first two were pretty much guaranteed not to move unless it was in some crazy deal for Juan Soto. Vientos presented a back up plan for the Mets in case they weren't able to land a second platoon DH. Mauricio is still in AA but his bat has been catching fire. There's reasons to hold onto all of them.
With that, Mauricio and Vientos were the two more likely of the grouping to be traded. Why? Vientos is an okay to barely average fielder, with a strikeout rate a little higher than you'd prefer. But he hits home runs. He's probably looking at a DH role in his future. But when the Mets watched Trey Mancini go to Houston, or Josh Bell go to San Diego in some crazy trade, it's a little easier not to part with someone like Vientos unless the deal brings you an upgrade in return. Does Ruf present one? Does Vogelbach present one? Enough of one to keep him in the minors for now.
Mauricio on the other hand, is blocked at the position by life contract Lindor, has a strikeout rate a little higher than you'd like too, and has more errors in the field (21) than he does home runs (19). The home runs can only make things palatable for so long. The Mets not trying him at other positions certainly raises eyebrows, but unless the return was higher than what you'd get for that of Vientos, not moving him in a trade also is the right move. He's not necessarily close to the big leagues, he's in AA, but the plan for Mauricio could be interesting if they're dead set on not trading him.
5. Was it enough, or was it not enough?
Consider they added former Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, James McCann, Trevor May, (etc.) back from the injured list on top of the trade acquisitions, the Mets had a pretty active deadline without giving up much. Adding deGrom back after over a year without pitching, to a lineup and team that has exceeded expectations without his presence, is a huge addition in midseason. No prospects were harmed in the making of this acquisition. Trevor May has been a solid performer in his time with the Mets, and they needed help in the bullpen right around deadline time. While May and Givens pitch from the right side, they still present necessary help to one of the better bullpens in the majors. As long as Mets pitchers are capable of going 6-7 innings, the trio of May-Givens-Ottavino, may be a great punch combo to get to Diaz if necessary. That's without factoring in a suddenly old self Seth Lugo. The bullpen did get better, whether people want to dwell on the initial outing of Givens, or not. Then there's James McCann. He's not a life changing bat, but still presents a little bit better of a bat than Nido. Whether it accelerates the Alvarez timeline or not remains to be seen, but if McCann can't command a role with his bat in the lineup, it's hard to imagine the Mets not making moves to possibly get rid of McCann in the offseason.
The trade deadline was underwhelming, a little irritating, and somewhat disappointing, but the Mets did improve their team. It just wasn't by giving up the farm system in order to gain name value and rentals.
The Mets sit atop the NL East by 3.5 games headed into the big series against the Braves, and at 66-38, they're off to one of the best starts since the 1986 season.
"If there was any year to go for it at the trade deadline, it was this one."
It was an under the radar approach, only time will tell whether it pays off for the Mets. As of now, they're still right where they want to be.