There are few things more delightful than a desperate professional sports team. They make rash moves, they blow up the news cycle, and they make you wonder about the sanity of the front office along with the sheer ceiling of their moves.
The New York Mets are at this point as I write this, having made a huge trade for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, and reportedly actively pursuing some Cleveland Indians pitchers. It’s amazing. And really, it doesn’t make any good sense. Honestly, I can’t get enough of it.
When a team ends up 77-85 while fielding a few incredibly talented All-Stars along with a ton of scrubs and old guys like the Mets do, it’s plain they’re at a crossroads, needing to make some hard decisions. The problem with baseball is just that one guy can’t win it. The White Sox tried the Stars and Scrubs method immediately prior to their most recent tear-down, and peaked at 85 wins in 2012. And that was before they signed Jose Abreu, which led to the 73-win 2014 campaign.
The Mets got the same harsh reminder this year. Generally though, at least in the modern method of team-building, it leads to some kind of detonation of the roster. Use that limited capital you have in those stars to bolster the farm system and make a brighter future for your team.That has been the Smart Baseball move whenever a team finds itself at a crossroads.
Not this time though. The Mets have doubled down, and with the Cano/Diaz deal, have already sealed their fate. Which is simply fun. It’s the kind of move as a fan you demand, you beg for, even if it may well doom the future.
The thing that’s the most awesome about their opening move of the winter, the Mets added two truly scintillating players. Usually a move like this circles around faded stars, but in at least one of them you get one of the singular talents in baseball. FanGraph’s Jeff Sullivan had it right, Edwin Diaz does throw a million miles an hour and he has that silly slider to back it up.
The Mets get him for quite a while. I still remember his debut when he faced the Cleveland Indians, a game nobody on the East Coast could have possibly been up for at that point. It was like he was born fully formed from a lightning bolt. He looked unhittable, and has shown it in the results with a 44.3 percent strikeout rate and 1.61 FIP this year. backing up the bravado brilliantly.
Combine that end-of-game appointment viewing with every smooth slide, swing and toss Cano brings to the table and you have a blockbuster in more ways than one, and with Cano, you get a player with at least some tread left on the tires. His 136 wRC+ from 2018 would have found him second behind Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil(?). Plus New York already loves him. Well, the other fan-base at least. That’s got to count for something. It worked once with Curtis Granderson.
The other best part is, they’re still on the hunt for other players. This utter and complete disregard for the current conventional wisdom is amazing. Not only are they doubling down on trying to win the division that still contains a powerful Nats team, a Philadelphia team on the cusp of breaking through as well as the division-winning Braves, they’re dumping prospects to do it. Including their most recent first round pick! Hell yeah. Prospects are suspect and all that. Why not run the team like it’s a video game and just get all your favorite players? The Mets at least know how to please the fans in the short term.
Look, I get it. The Mets and their fan-base have been some kind of downtrodden since the 80’s. There was that blip in the late 90’s wen we got that dreadful Subway World Series, and their run in the mid-2000’s that peaked with the 2006 NLCS and a strike looking. 2015 was fun, too. But every time they’ve done the careful, smart team-building method, it looks good for a second and then caves in on them. This time they’re just skipping the organic team-building and going for the peak before the crash.
They have some of those pieces left over in Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, a young guy in Brandon Nimmo who looks like a star and Michael Conforto, who did at one point anyway. So the cupboard isn’t bare. Adding Cano adds a bit of a jolt for the immediate future. And that there’s even suggestions of their chasing a Cleveland starter is amazing. This team just doesn’t care about the future. Why should they? It’s barely worked out for them in the past.
This is all going to turn into a mess, isn’t it. There’s no way it can’t. The Mets need to add a solid 10 or 15 wins to their record. Diaz and Cano provided a combined 6.5 fWAR and 6.4 rWAR in 2018, and Cano only played 80 games. So if you’re optimistic, they’re like half way there, and even more if you assume Syndergaard returns to full form, other young pitchers improve and more luck on the health front. Add another pitcher as expected, there’s a shot at adding 13 or so wins.
But even with that admittedly spurious math that leans on a lot of supposition and no bad things happening, they’re a 90-ish win team. That would have won them the division in 2018, which is great. But things are too fluid. Baseball never stays the same year to year.
All the talk with Manny Machado going to Philly, the improvements the Braves expect from their young team and a full season of Ronald Acuña, a new All-Star pitcher and full year of Juan Soto for the Nationals (who were 8 real wins worse than their Pythagorean 90-72 record themselves) and hopefully less injuries and the same amount of Bryce Harper means the East will only get tougher.
And even beyond that, 90 wins would otherwise find them on the outside looking in at the Wild Card Game this past year. That’s unlikely to change, especially now the Cardinals are making big moves of their own and are already better. So it’s a team shooting for the 2018 East crown in 2019 by adding an aging superstar and a bullpen arm. It’s not a bad move, in the moment. It’s not a brilliant move either, in the conventional sense anyway. It’s certainly making waves, and it’s totally fun.
The Mets are the talk of baseball right now, which is certainly something to be proud of. They’ll probably be better next year, even if they’ve made the future intensely murky at best. Whether it matters - if all that matters is playing in October anyway - is simply why they play the game. But you can’t fault them for being bold. Right?
Merritt Rohlfing does baseball writing for Let’s Go Tribe, Beyond the Box Score, and occasionally elsewhere on the internet. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillLunch, email thoughts and opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org.