Very slowly, the Mets and Mariners agreed to a blockbuster trade that exchanges seven players, and delivers Robinson Canó, Edwin Diaz, and $20 million to New York, in exchange for Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, and prospects Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, and Gerson Bautista.
The deal was reported on Thursday as nearly complete, then stretched into Friday, and then through the weekend. Players, prospects, and money changed several times throughout the course of the reporting.
There are five possible opinions on this trade. Four are correct and one is incorrect. The four correct opinions are explored below.
Correct #1: Mets win
The 2018 Mets featured four starters with a wRC+ over 100: Brandon Nimmo (149), Michael Conforto (120), Asdrubal Cabrera (124), and Wilmer Flores (103). Nimmo and Confoto are great, but Cabrera was traded and Flores non-tendered. Yoenis Cespedes and Jeff McNeil can certainly hit as well, but the team clearly needed another bat.
Cano has been an elite hitter for more than a decade who’s shown no signs of slowing down. Despite an 80-game suspension, he posted a 136 wRC+ last season. He’s also still an above average defensive second baseman according to both DRS and UZR.
Edwin Diaz was the flat-out best reliever in baseball last season. He struck out 44.3 percent of opposing hitters with a 1.61 FIP. His 3.5 fWAR was 26th best in baseball among ALL pitchers— including starters! He is not arbitration eligible until 2020, and remains under team control through 2023.
This is a win-now move for a franchise often criticized for being too tightfisted. Yes, they’re sacrificing prospect capital, but they also clear the unwanted Bruce and Swarzak contracts. The Mets are finally acting like a big market team.
Correct #2: Mets lose
Canó is a 36-year-old second baseman who’s signed through 2023 for $24 million per season. Sure, the money coming over in the deal offsets some of that contract, but how many middle infielders stay productive that late into their careers? Just about zero. It’s a matter of time before this contract becomes a burden like those of Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.
Diaz is fantastic, no doubt about it, but he’s still a reliever. How much value can any reliever really add, particularly for a team with many holes elsewhere? Furthermore, relievers are notoriously all streaky. Maybe Diaz collapses next year. Even worse, his arm could literally collapse, as he throws his devastating slider 37.3 percent of the time. Sliders put more stress on the elbow than probably any other type of pitch, making him a high risk for Tommy John surgery. Once upon a time, Carson Smith was practically the same pitcher as Diaz, and look at how that has turned out.
Maybe this trade makes the Mets better for 2019, but it might not even be enough to rise above fourth place. Beyond that, it could be disastrous.
Correct #3: Mariners win
In Dipoto we trust. The GM with the itchiest of trigger fingers says he can rebuild the Mariners all in one season, and there’s no reason to disbelieve him. After bringing in a few useful pieces in the James Paxton trade, this one continues to replenish the farm system. FanGraph’s Eric Longenhagen reviews Seattle’s prospect haul expertly.
Yes, it hurts to lose Diaz and Canó. However, this really makes the Canó contract an absolute perfect signing for the Mariners. They originally signed him for 10 years and $240 million. They kept him for five of them—likely the best five years of the deal— then traded away his inevitable decline. That’s good franchise management.
Correct #4: Mariners lose
Forget about the money. When the players are on the field, none of that matters. What does matter is the two best overall players in the deal are leaving a team that was a stone’s-throw away from a 2018 playoff bid. It’s highly unlikely any of the prospects recovered in the Canó salary dump will ever be as good as either Canó or Diaz. Beware of prospect hugging too much; most of them never meet expectations.
The Mariners are going to be difficult to watch in 2019; in addition to Canó and Diaz, they’ve also lost Paxton, Nelson Cruz, and Mike Zunino. Jean Segura could be next to depart. In return, they get what? Maybe the 10th best farm system in baseball and a high draft pick? Oh, also Jay Bruce. Yay.
These are the four correct opinions— two for the Mets and two for the Mariners. You may choose one for each team to suit your rooting interests and optimism or pessimism. The result is neither, both, or just one team wins the deal.
There is a fifth opinion, though, and it is incorrect.
Incorrect #1: Wait and see
No one knows how this will work out. There are just too many variables. How long will Canó stay productive? Will Kelenic turn into one of the top outfielders in baseball? Will the money saved by the Mariners help them reinvest in talent a year from now? Where does Jeff McNeil play, since he and Canó are both second basemen? Are the Mets really committed to winning? It’s really won’t be possible to accurately evaluate this deal for another few years.
This is incorrect. Even in the offseason, we DEMAND winners and losers. There are no ties in baseball, even in trades. A “wait and see” approach might be more rational, and opinions on who won the trade actually have no impact at all on real life wins and losses. Never mind that! We, the baseball consuming public, expect a good and a bad, a winner and a loser, a black and a white. Opinions may vary, but they are mandatory nonetheless.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983