At the time, and just about every day since, someone on Mets Twitter has lamented the Mets’ performance at the trade deadline. The team had a few glaring needs going into mid-July, and while the team addressed some needs, the moves felt very muted, and not befitting a team that needed a significant boost to make the final push to the postseason.
And while we all enjoyed the early days of Daniel Vogelbach on the Mets (who could forget him coming out to Keli$ at Women’s Appreciation Day?), the question being asked today is not “should the Mets have done more?,” because, of course, yes they should have. The question is: is the team worse off than it would have been if it did nothing at all the deadline?
Now, this is a subjective question at its heart, even if we can point to some objective numbers. There are also factors like ‘change of scenery that can’t really be quantified. I am also not going to go game by game, appearance by appearance, because there are too many variables in those situations. We’re looking at this from a big picture standpoint.
The Mets received four players within a week or so of the trade deadline that have played for the big league club: Daniel Vogelbach, Tyler Naquin, Darin Ruf, and Mychel Givens. Let’s first look at how those four players have ingratiated themselves to the Mets system.
Vogelbach was both the first player to come over, and the one that had (temporarily) the biggest impact on the club. While he’s only put up .3 bWAR since joining the Mets, he’s been an above average hitter, putting up an OPS+ of 115 in that time, socking four home runs and seven doubles in orange and blue. Since tweaking his hamstring, Vogelbach has been an almost non-entity on the team, contributing via walks and that’s about it from the DH role.
Naquin is right there with Vogelbach in terms of overall performance, with a .2 bWAR and a 118 OPS+, four home runs, four doubles, and two triples as a Met. Theoretically, Naquin offers a little extra value as a fourth outfielder, as opposed to Vogelbach’s DH status and the not infrequent need to be pinch run for in late and tight situation. His -.2 dWAR somewhat belies that thinking, however.
Ruf has been an abject failure since coming over from the Giants, collecting just eight hits in 58 plate appearances. Only three of those, all doubles, went for extra bases. He as an 11 OPS+ as a Met - ELEVEN - and has been worth -.8 bWAR. Ruf has not had as much playing time as the other offensive players being discussed because of his weak-side platoon position, but the numbers don’t lie: Ruf has been, well, rough.
Givens was giving Ruf a run for the ‘worst performing acquisition’ for his first few weeks as a Met, but has somewhat pulled up the nose over the past few weeks. He’s still been below average for the team, posting just a 79 ERA+ and 5.03 ERA. In his last seven appearances, dating back to August 28th, Givens hasn’t allowed an earned run, although he is still giving up more walks and hits than you’d like out of a reliever who was, theoretically, supposed to pitch in high leverage positions.
For those players, the Mets gave up mostly prospects, along with three players who saw time in the majors for both the Mets and their new club this season. Since this is a discussion about this year’s Mets, we’re not going to look at any minor league stats.
For Vogelbach, the Mets gave up relief pitcher Colin Holderman, who had a few promising appearances for the Mets this season, but very much looked like a low leverage relief pitcher who may never quite figure it out, but flashed quality at times. His performance for the Pirates since the trade bore that out as well. His Mets ERA was 2.04 in 15 appearances, his Pirates ERA a hefty 6.75 in nine games. That number is greatly inflated by his final performance of the year before hitting the IL, where he gave up five runs without recording an out. He is currently on the 60-day disabled list.
Both Thomas Szapucki and J.D. Davis went to San Francisco for Ruf, and both have had surprising success in the Bay. Szapucki, who looked absolutely washed in his sole Met appearance this season, has appeared in three games for the Giants, striking out seven, walking none, and giving up just one earned run over five and a third innings. He hasn’t pitched in the month of September yet.
Davis has looked more like the player the Mets had in 2019 than more recently since joining the Giants. His 134 OPS+, and five home runs both eclipse his performance in pinstripes from earlier in the season, and Davis has almost half as many at bats in just over a month in San Francisco than he had in four months in Queens. His .5 bWAR is the highest for their new club of any player mentioned here.
When looking at this data, the answer seems pretty clear that the Mets didn’t greatly improve their team at the deadline, at least not yet. In theory, the Vogelbach/Ruf DH combination should be a marketed improvement over Davis and Dominic Smith, but right now, that’s debatable.
However, it seems like the Ruf for Davis, Szapucki, and co. trade is the only one the Mets really should desire a take back on. While Naquin, Vogelbach, and Givens haven’t exactly lit Citi Field ablaze with their heroics, they haven’t been the absolute black hole that Ruf has been. And while Szapucki’s success is likely limited, having the extra arm in the minors wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Mets’ depth down the stretch, either.
If we’re going simply by bWAR, my personal WAR of choice, the Mets, so far, have gotten -.5 bWAR out of their late July moves, while the teams they traded the players to have amassed +.4 bWAR. This is as close to a wash as possible, and so the answer to the initial question is “well, maybe?”
However, if the Ruf trade was not made, the Mets would be not be on the hook for his -.8 bWAR, and would have Davis and Szapucki’s collective +.6 bWAR instead. As the Mets are half a game up on the Braves at the time of this writing, an extra half win is a cushion the Mets would gladly take right now. Again, this is an unscientific experiment, and while no one is arguing that the Mets had a perfect deadline, it looks like only one move they did make was really a disaster thus far. As is so often the case, the moves they didn’t make are likely the bigger culprit.