The one-year anniversary of the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade

This time last year the buzz was all about the reported trade between the Mets and Mariners, one that wouldn’t be official until December 3. If you just woke up from a year-long coma, the Mets sent Gerson Bautista, Jay Bruce, Justin Dunn, Jarred Kelenic and Anthony Swarzak to the Mariners for Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and $20 million. It looked like a bad deal at the time and the reality was far, far worse.

It was spun by the Mets as a win-now trade, one that filled two primary needs for the team while keeping Diaz away from the Phillies, who were also in pursuit of the closer coming off perhaps the best year of any reliever in 2018. Of course, when only one side gets to present their case, you don’t get the whole picture.

The Mets were handcuffing their future payroll by agreeing to take on the final five years of Cano, adding a $20 million per year commitment to a player almost guaranteed not to be worth the expenditure over the life of the deal. They also sunk a lot of resources into acquiring a reliever, a position well-known for being very fickle in results from year to year. Finally, they raided their farm system to make the deal happen.

So, how did the trade play out? Let’s look at the participants.

Cano was bad for the majority of the year, injured for a fair amount, suffered several instances of an extreme lack of hustle and yet somehow managed to hustle one time and crash into Michael Conforto and give him a concussion. Conforto had a .931 OPS at the time. After missing nine days, Conforto returned to the field but for the next two months put up a .729 OPS, sinking what had been shaping up as a signature season.

For the season, Cano put up a .736 OPS in 423 PA. It was the second-worst OPS of his 15-year MLB career. He was a dependable fielder and proved very good turning the double play but his lack of range dragged down his defensive numbers. And he was a horrible baserunner. Overall the combination led to a 0.8 fWAR, a mark that FanGraphs computed as being worth $6.1 million. And the assumption by everyone was that while Cano would likely be an anchor at the back end of the deal, he would be an asset the first two seasons. Woops.

Diaz went from one extreme to the other, as one year after being perhaps the best reliever in the game, he ended up being in the conversation as one of the worst. After posting a 1.96 ERA and a 0.791 WHIP in 2018, his marks were 5.59 and 1.379, respectively, in 2019. Diaz surrendered 15 HR in 58 IP, as an unsightly 26.8% of his fly balls left the yard. He lost his closer’s job and finished the year with 31 fewer Saves than the 57 he recorded in 2018.

Kelenic played at three different levels, ending the year in Double-A, where he put up a 133 wRC+ in 92 PA as a 20 year old. It may have been defensible at the time of the trade to believe that Kelenic was four years away from contributing to the majors. But after his standout season, he’s now one of the top 25 prospects in all of the game, with a likely ETA of 2021 and an outside shot of making his MLB debut in this upcoming season. Oh, and he’s a center fielder, the position that the Mets need the most help in both the majors and the high minors.

Dunn went back to Double-A and shaved over a full walk from his BB/9 rate and got a cup of coffee with the Mariners at the end of the year. In four games, he put up a 2.70 ERA, albeit in just 6.2 IP. MLB.com lists him as Seattle’s fifth starter on the Mariners’ depth chart, a role he could easily play on the 2020 Mets, too, given the club’s other options here with the overwhelmingly likely departure of Zack Wheeler.

Bruce put up a 0.6 fWAR in 98 games and 333 PA while Swarzak put up a 4.56 ERA and a 1.481 WHIP in 53.1 IP. Those two players were thrown into the deal as a partial salary offset for Cano. But the two of them essentially duplicated what Cano and Diaz gave the Mets in 2019. They could have kept what they had and gotten equal production. And the pay would have been fairly even, too. Swarzak’s contract would be off the books now and the Mets would be left with Bruce for one more year at $14 million.

Bautista was awful but he missed half of the season with a pectoral injury.

All in all, this trade could hardly have worked out worse for the Mets. They gambled that Cano would buck the odds and be a productive 2B at age 36. And they lost badly on that bet. They wagered that Diaz would be able to remain one of the game’s elite closers and that one was a miserable failure, too. And for the cherry on top of this particular sundae, Kelenic played even better than his strongest supporters would have imagined, as no one expected he would succeed up to and including Double-A in 2019.

Brodie Van Wagenen’s first big move was a failure from a production standpoint and it was worse on two other levels. The huge amount of money sunk into Cano has painted the Mets into a corner financially. They could have retained Wheeler with that money or paid for a younger, more productive player elsewhere. And they traded away a future stud at the position where they need help the most.

Van Wagenen made some good moves his first year on the job but all of the good he did elsewhere gets completely wiped out by this one unbelievably awful transaction. Not every trade is going to work out the way that you hope it does. But you want to make deals that make sense at the time, in addition to working out good in the end. This one looked bad at the start and accelerated downhill in reality.

11 comments for “The one-year anniversary of the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade

  1. NYM6986
    December 1, 2019 at 10:52 am

    The trade certainly was a bust but it seemed that the prize was Diaz and because of his cheap salaries over the next 4 years that it was worth what would be the unproductive back end of Cano’s deal. You so correctly pointed out that we all expected the first two years to be strong additions to the team both offensively and defensively but old age hit him too early. Had Diaz been the Diaz of 2018 all would have been forgotten as we would have coasted into the playoffs. Let’s hope Brodie is smarter this time around and that Lowrie comes ready to play, Familia finds his stuff and Diaz returns to form. Oh and Ces back in LF alone should give us 5 more wins. We play in NY and need an offseason splash. Spend the money to bring in a Rendon for 3B or a good CF without looting what’s left down on the farm. And sign a #5 – do not convert a reliever into that spot. We are ready for a winner.

    • December 1, 2019 at 11:14 am

      LFers for the Mets put up an .869 OPS last year. For his career, Cespedes has an .826 OPS.

      If you say that McNeil and Davis, who made up the bulk of the LF playing time, are not leaving the lineup and that they’ll give that same production at 3B, instead of LF, than Cespedes needs to bring more to the table than Todd Frazier did last year. Frazier had a 1.9 fWAR, so Cespedes would need to put up a 6.9 fWAR to give the team 5 more wins. That’s not happening.

  2. MYM6986
    December 1, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Hoping Ces brings to 2020 what he brought to 2015 – a bat that other teams really fear. That made everyone around him in the order more dangerous. 45 HRs and his rocket arm will a long way for us.

    • Mike W
      December 1, 2019 at 6:21 pm

      That was five years ago (Ces in 2015) Fast forward five years, he wont hit 45 home runs. Too much age, rust and injuries.

      I know this sounds nuts, but we need to see what Cano and Diaz do this year before we make a final judgement.

      I also like Marte, but how much better would he be than Nimmo ? I am concerned about his decline and giving assets up for him. May be better to go after Margot who is a very good fielder as a platoon player against lefties and late inning defensive replacement. We would need the other half of the platoon.

  3. TJ
    December 1, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Happy Anniversary lol! While the final results aren’t yet in, in the context of overall detrimental impact on the franchise, this could ascend to the worst trade in the 6 decade history of the Mets, and they’ve had some real bad ones. But, as they say, what is done is done. Brodie’s margin for error now is zero, maybe even below zero if possible. Another repeat of this deal could make the Marlins more likely to win the division before the Mets. This slim margin for error makes me very leery of a Marte acqusition…a guy in likely decline with a likely large market which will cost significant prospect talent. No thanks…this is the colatteral damage of the Cano deal.

  4. MattyMets
    December 2, 2019 at 8:11 am

    If Jeff McNeil were part of this trade it might go down as the worst ever made. So, yeah, it could have been worse.

    I believe Cano (wrist injuries) and Diaz (slick balls, adapting to NY and new catcher) will bounce back this year.

    • December 2, 2019 at 8:31 am

      Good point. McNeil was in earlier leaked versions of this trade.

  5. Metsense
    December 2, 2019 at 8:27 am

    Brian, you have always said that this trade was terrible and you were correct. Last Summer when we went to see the Kingsport Mets you convinced me and changed my mind.
    1. You should never sign or trade for a 35 + year old player that has a multi-year contract.
    2. You should never sign or trade for a player that was suspended for Peds in the previous season because his statistics are compromised.
    3. You should never commit a significant amount of payroll to players over 35 years old
    4. You should always be careful when acquiring a reliever because by nature relievers are inconsistent year by year.
    5. You should never mortgage your farm system for a quick fix solution.
    I think this trade was the worst trade in the history of the Mets. The only reason the Mets won 86 games was the breakout seasons of Alonso , McNeil , Davis, Smith and Wheeler . I am apprehensive going into the winter meetings with Brodie’s trade record.

    • Steve S.
      December 2, 2019 at 10:15 am

      All good points!

      BVW will be much more careful with his moves this time around, I believe. He knows that he screwed up with the Cano deal.

    • Chris F
      December 2, 2019 at 8:45 pm

      Truer words have never been spoken. Well said Metsense.

  6. Eraff
    December 2, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    I doubt the Mets are planning on anything from Ces. They’re not keeping or making room for hom in any plans. A return to form would be a great surprise and would represent a Roster or Trade asset

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