It’s July and the Mets are in last place. Anyone who said they saw that coming at the start of the season is full of it. But regardless of the insanity of it all, now’s the time to deal with the reality of the situation. And last place teams in July better be rebuilding or starting that process. The Mets, one of the most active teams in free agency heading into the year, were not already rebuilding. But 99 percent of the fan base is ready to trade anything and everything that’s not already nailed to the floor.
So, this is what it’s like to be in the 1% – funny, it’s a lot different than my expectations.
It makes complete sense to want to distance yourself as far as possible from the dumpster fire of 2018 and there’s no better way to achieve that than getting rid of everyone involved. But at the same time, you can’t let emotions dictate your decision-making process. You don’t blame your best guys when you don’t win and you don’t necessarily trade them, either.
The Mets have four players on their roster with a legitimate shot to amass 5.0 fWAR or greater in 2019. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. Three of those guys are 25 right now and the other just turned 30 a dozen days ago. Syndergaard and deGrom have already posted years with a fWAR that high, Conforto put up a 4.3 mark last season in 440 PA and Nimmo currently has a 2.6 mark in 252 PA this year.
How many players on the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros had a 5.0 or better fWAR last year? There were only two. Now, they didn’t have Justin Verlander for the entire year and they still had nine guys post a 3.0 or better fWAR. They were an excellent team and are well-positioned to be an excellent team for years to come.
Do the Mets have a better chance to be that way by trading off the guys who are stars now and hoping they can hit on the prospects that they get in return? Or do they have a better chance of assembling a team with nine above average guys or better by holding on to the four guys they already have and making better additions around them?
The Mets likely thought they had four of these guys heading into 2018 but they would have counted Yoenis Cespedes rather than Nimmo. Perhaps they even thought they had five of these guys, as Asdrubal Cabrera was just one year removed from a 3.5 fWAR season. Then they added Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier – two guys who consistently put up 3-WAR seasons. It was a plan that put them right on the edge of where they needed to be.
Of course the plan didn’t work.
Cespedes’ leg injuries were worse than we feared, Syndergaard’s lat injury did not return but he came up with a completely unexpected finger injury and Bruce and Frazier – two guys noted for their durability – both landed on the DL. It’s unfortunate that four guys who were counted on to be cornerstones all got hurt and missed significant time in the same season. Because it’s a whole lot easier to amass above average numbers when you play 150 games.
So the rational thing to do is assess how likely the team is to receive health and production from their current players going forward. Sure, put Cespedes in the lottery column. But where do you put Syndergaard or Frazier? Is there a good reason to believe that Syndergaard will turn into the Tin Man and come up with a different injury every year? Is there a good reason to think that Frazier, who averaged 3.5 fWAR the previous five seasons, will perform this way again? And you can put Bruce in this category, too.
Regardless of which way you come down after the rational assessment, you still want to listen to trade offers for all of your players. All it takes is one team being willing to overpay for an asset and however unlikely that may be, it costs nothing to listen
And if the rational assessment says you should go the rebuilding route, it doesn’t mean that you have to trade your big stars by the end of the month. Maybe the best offer comes on July 31. But maybe it comes in November. You’ve got to know what the value is and don’t sell for pennies on the dollar.
Everyone points to the Astros and Cubs as teams that sold off their players, went through down times and then came out on top. That’s absolutely a potential outcome. The problem is that it’s not the only one.
The Reds made the playoffs three times in four years, sold off what they could and are looking at their fifth straight losing season with no end in sight. The White Sox, after a few years of treading water, sold off their stars and are looking at their first 100-loss season since 1970 and there’s no telling when it will get better. And their deals when they sold off their stars were universally praised. The Tigers made the playoffs four straight years and then sold off their veterans. They lost 98 games last year and might challenge that mark again this year and face an uncertain future.
You sell off your stars and rebuild, you guarantee yourself 95+ loss seasons. Which is fine if you deliver playoff appearances and a World Championship. Astros and Cubs fans will tell you it’s worth it. Fans of other franchises might tell you something else entirely. If you’re a Mets fan pushing to blow things up, remember that there are no assurances that big winning will follow all of the guaranteed losing. You better believe in your GM. And the Mets have three of those right now.
In football, they say if you have two starting quarterbacks, you don’t have one. Does that apply towards baseball GMs, too? Either way – better hold on tight because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.