The hot stove is lit!
The Mets and Mariners agreed to a blockbuster trade that will send Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to New York in exchange for Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, and Gerson Bautista. The Mariners will include $20 million to subsidize the $120 million left on Canó’s contract. The deal will save the Mariners as much as $66 million.
The Mets have made it clear that they want to continue to try and contend after coming off a disappointing 77-win season in 2018, and that they are willing to eschew the future to do so. The Mariners, on the other hand, appear to be trying to rebuild without tanking completely, despite their recent acquisition of Mallex Smith.
Long terms contracts to players over 30 rarely, if ever, work out well. It is even more risky for keystone position players. Canó signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners when he was 31 years old. Somewhat surprisingly, Canó has continued his excellent track record of durability since his time with the Yankees. He only missed significant time this past season from an 80-game suspension that was the result of testing positive for furosemide, a diuretic that can be used to mask the presence of anabolic steroids.
Canó actually gave the Mariners their money’s worth. No, they did not make the playoffs during his time there, but it is silly to blame that on one player. Overall, he was good-to-excellent during his time in Seattle. He was inconsistent offensively, which was odd. His wRC+ each season from 2014 to 2018 were 137, 116, 139, 113, 136. He was worth 23.6 WAR. That is a really good outcome half way through a 10-year contract.
Canó’s defense is not what it was when he first came into the league. His range has really decreased, but he is still solid at second base. The problem is that it is doubtful that he stays at that position for the next five years. If Peter Alonso or Dom Smith become the everyday first baseman, the Mets will be stuck hoping that the NL implements the DH soon. On the other hand, the Mets willingly dealt with Daniel Murphy’s poor defense at second base, and he was an above-average hitter at best.
I am sure that there are plenty of Mets fans lamenting the acquisition of Canó. The end of his contract might look ugly, but in the near term he is still quite good. He is coming off a season where he hit .303/.374/.471, and Steamer projects a true talent of .283/.343/.460 for the 2019 season. That is far from what Jeff McNeil did at second base, but as my coworker Devan Fink wrote, he is likely to see a lot of regression in 2019. I would have been completely fine with McNeil as the everyday second baseman, but I like the idea of his becoming a depth guy. Canó might start succumbing to injuries at his age, and Todd Frazier might be on a tight leash at third base. He hit only .213/.303/.390 in 2018 and played in only 115 games. McNeil could see significant time at third base during the upcoming season.
Díaz might be the bigger get in this trade, and I am sure there are those that believe that he definitely is. He is one of the best relievers in baseball, and he is coming off an outstanding season. He had a 2.09 RA9 in 73 1⁄3 IP. His 44.3 K% was second only to Josh Hader, whose walk rate was almost 10 percent. Díaz’s walk rate was quite good at 6.1 percent. It is incredibly difficult for a reliever to crack 3 WAR, but he did it. He also has four years left on his rookie contract.
The Mets are acquiring two players with substantial upside, but there is also substantial risk involved. If Canó hits like he did last season while playing over 150 games, and Díaz repeats his 2018 season, this pair could be worth approximately nine wins in 2019. Or Canó could start playing like a 36-year-old second baseman, and Díaz could regress to his 2017 level. It is possible that Díaz is the rare kind of reliever who can sustain his elite performance, but given the historical track record of relievers, I would not bet on it. Furthermore, he just finished a season where he threw 73 1⁄3 innings, and he threw 66 innings the year before that. He has never spent time on the disabled list, but he does have a bone spur in his right elbow. It has not impacted him yet, but it could at any time.
The financial risk for Díaz is very low. He will not even be arbitration eligible until next year. However, the Mets are parting with two prospects who might be their two best, or at the very least they are in their top five. We will likely see them both on top-100 lists this offseason. The Mets are now on the hook for $66 million as a result of taking on Canó’s contract.
Evaluating the deal depends largely on what one thinks of Kelenic and Dunn. There is not exactly a consensus in the industry as to what they are going to be. Kelenic was the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft, and he is a five-tool center fielder, but according to a scouting report by BP’s Jeffrey Paternostro, only his arm is plus. He should be an above-average center fielder. He does have a high ceiling, though. He hit .286/.371/.468 in 251 PA in Rookie ball. We’ll see how he performs in full season ball next year.
There is not a strong consensus on Dunn, either, who was drafted 19th overall in 2016. His ceiling is that of a mid-rotation starter, but he has a chance to end up in the bullpen. He should be a great reliever if he does end up there.
Gerson Bautista can throw hard, but he can’t do much else. He will be a bit of project for player development. Anthony Swarzak was signed as a free agent last year on a cheap two-year, $14 million deal coming off a season where he had a 2.45 RA9 and struck out 30 percent of hitters faced. It was not much money, but he was a sub-replacement level player last year. He had a 6.15 RA9, demonstrated poor command, and gave up six home runs in only 26 1⁄3 IP.
The Jay Bruce contract was not too bad at three years and $39 million, but it got off to a disastrous start. He hit only .223/.310/.370 over just 94 games. He can’t play the outfield anymore, either. At least the Mariners can DH him.
If you are high on Kelenic and Dunn, it looks better for the Mariners, more so if you think Canó and Díaz are going to regress. If those two hit their ceilings, this trade is really going to hurt for the Mets. If your are low on Kelenic and Dunn, and you believe Canó and Díaz can play close to their ceilings for the near future, then it looks better for the Mets. Regardless of how you view it, there are critiques of both sides.
One has to wonder if the Mariners would have gotten a better prospect package had they not attached Canó’s contract to it. I am sure they would have. What if they had waited for something better? It is early in the offseason, and the Winter Meetings are coming up. Furthermore, they are taking on a fair amount of risk with Kelenic seeing as how he has yet to play a full season of pro ball.
The Mets are mortgaging their future to improve their current team, in what should be an ultra-competitive NL East. Making a big trade like this makes sense if it gives you a significant chance to win the division. That still seems unlikely, and that is without Bryce Harper or Manny Machado landing with an NL East rival. They have a fair chance to make it to the Wild Card game, but it is very risky to to go all in for a figurative coin flip to decide whether or not you get to advance to the NLDS. The good news is that if the Mets fail to be competitive, they might be able to flip Díaz like the Padres did for Craig Kimbrel.
I usually choose to give my opinion on a trade, but I have a hard time doing so with this one. If this trade was just for Díaz straight up, then it would be a pretty light deal, and the Mariners’ farm system badly needed help. The salary relief evens it out more. The problem is that there are quite a few places where reasonable people can disagree, and we also need to see how the NL East plays out over the offseason. The Ringer’s Zach Kram posted a reasonable argument that both sides lost the trade. It certainly is not lopsided in either direction, but it is fair to favor either side over the other. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.