One of the many targets of the Mets this offseason is Indians starter Corey Kluber, who is a terrific pitcher and has been for at least five years now. Kluber, who will turn 33 in April, is under contract for three more years, technically for 2019 and then options the next two seasons. But those options are very team-friendly and it’s a near guarantee that they will be exercised by whichever club he’s on.
MetsBlog’s Matthew Cerrone speculated on trading Brandon Nimmo and Andres Gimenez for Kluber. It’s unknown if this is enough to get the deal done or if it’s something the Mets would even consider doing. Having already dealt Jay Bruce, and with Yoenis Cespedes out for an undetermined length of time, trading Nimmo would be a huge risk on the Mets’ part. But if this would get the deal done, it’s something that the Mets would have to at least consider.
There are many more success stories of starting pitchers in their mid-30s than there are of second baseman in their late-30s. And Kluber would only be owed $40.5 million over three years, compared to the $120 million Robinson Cano is set to make the next five seasons. While still deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on this pretend deal, my overwhelming feeling is if this – or something close – is actually available, then this should have been Brodie Van Wagenen’s top priority.
Again, while still not completely sold on the trade, let’s dream a minute about a rotation where Kluber is the third starter and Zack Wheeler, the guy who finished 2018 11th in the National League in ERA, as the fourth starter. That would be pretty amazing. The Mets top four starters in this scenario combined for 22.6 fWAR last season. And that’s with Wheeler starting the year in the minors and Noah Syndergaard having two DL stints.
The question is if right now the Mets are in a position to trade offense for starting pitching, which is already a team strength. It’s reminiscent of 1975, when the Mets’ top three starters went a combined 52-34 but they couldn’t find anyone to be a useful fourth starter. So in the offseason, they acquired 1968 World Series hero Mickey Lolich. Now, there were other considerations for the Mets in making that trade, including some narrow-minded world view by the front office, but essentially they traded from a weakness to bolster a strength. The 1975 Mets finished ninth in the 12-team NL with a 3.99 runs per game average. They simply weren’t in a position to trade their best hitter.
Nimmo was the Mets’ best hitter in 2018. Now, you may feel he won’t repeat his season or you may feel that Michael Conforto will be even better. But we’re still talking about a guy who put up a 150 OPS+ last year and pre-arb guys with that type of production on their resume simply don’t grow on trees. For a comparison, Ronald Acuna Jr. put up a 144 OPS+ and Juan Soto had a 142 mark.
And in addition to Nimmo, the Mets would be parting with Gimenez, who depending on who you ask is either their top prospect or their number two guy. If you deal Gimenez, you better be sure that Amed Rosario is the long-term answer at shortstop. While the Mets have some intriguing shortstops in the low minors, trading Gimenez means that Rosario is the guy for the next three years. Recall that Rosario had a strong close to the season. Is that a glimpse of what’s to come or is it just the latest six-week hot streak?
Trading for Kluber would be a bold move. But the pain in the loss of Nimmo would be felt immediately, not four or more years down the road like with Jarred Kelenic. Perhaps that’s why Van Wagenen pursued Cano instead.
Meanwhile, I still can’t say if this is a good idea for the Mets or not.