With the arrival of February, the unmistakable feel of baseball surrounds us. Hey, at least the “Disastros” kept us all talking baseball through the winter along with a pretty energetic Hot Stove season, which was thankfully dominated by a lot of free agent moves and trades. Brodie Van Wagenen certainly had the Mets involved in what looks like interesting moves that follow a very Mets-like approach: banking on projects with potential upside.
Scanning over a host of projections for NL East standings, the majority have the Mets sitting in third place, with a couple putting them in first place. Regardless of the projection, most people see the East being an entertaining mix of four teams, all separated by 5-7 wins when the leaves start to change color. What seems to be capturing the attention amongst the competition for the Eastern Division crown is third base.
The projected top three teams will all see big time changes at third in 2020. For both the reigning World Series Champion Nationals and Division Champion Braves, one could easily argue they lost one of their best position players in Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. Todd Frazier was a welcomed site in Queens as a local guy, but his departure will not be a crush to the team and ostensibly opened up a position to help ease the player log jam. With the news of Kris Bryant predictably losing his service-time grievance case, now is the time to trade for him and make a serious move to winning the East. A player like Bryant is a total difference maker and trading for him is exactly the kind of move winners make.
Adding the extra year before free agency adds a lot to Bryant’s value. So does the fact that Bryant will play the next two years in his absolute prime at ages 28 and 29 along with making a bid for a killer free agent contract. Trading for him will hurt, as it should. This is not trading our best prospects for an on-a-steep-decline Cano and a reliever, but more akin to the move to get Cespedes for whom we traded Michael Fulmer. That was a winner move in 2015, and so will this. Another rather significant corollary would be taking Bryant away from both the Nationals – who look to be promoting Carter Kieboom from the minors, and the Braves – who appear to have Johan Camargo slotting back in. I expect both teams to be looking at Bryant seriously.
For the metrics-first thinkers, Bryant owns a career on-base at 38.5% with a low standard deviation, meaning he does this year-in year-out, and provides the type of consistent production this team needs. At the same time, his career OPS and OPS+ is .900 and 136, respectively. Put 30 dingers in the bank too. Bryant will slot in at third base, where his defense is passable, and play there most games. The best thing about Bryant’s profile is that he can cover first and a little outfield, although that would hardly be necessary. Would anyone like seeing Alonso and Bryant in the middle of the line-up?
What such a trade would mean for the Mets is another re-think about the infield. No matter how happy we will all be to have Jeff McNeil playing every day, he really belongs at second base, which introduces the problem of dealing with Robinson Cano. It is time for the front office to recognize that Cano is not an every-day player and really is moving into the “veteran bench guy” aspect of his career. The team cannot win the division or even hope to play in October with an anchor like Cano in the line-up and getting 600 AB in the season. That said, we can already predict injury is coming, so the team needs a legitimate big-leaguer at second on a regular basis. That person is not Jed Lowrie or Luis Guillorme. So let’s move McNeil to second base pretty much daily, let Cano get a two or three games per week in there and roll McNeil to third or outfield, or let him stay healthy and come off the bench. McNeil needs to get 500 AB, and that’s doable as playing second coupled with utility work.
Who will it cost to get Bryant in a trade? Well, you can put Mauricio on the list for sure. It’s possible that Brandon Nimmo might be wanted. Depending how deep the Cubs rebuild really is, maybe it’s Brett Baty or Mark Vientos or Matthew Allen. The Cubs want to shed some salary, so there is a limit to who the Mets should give up, given the $18.6M salary Bryant brings in, unless the Cubs eat a fair bit of that. Regardless of the arrangement, any of the controllable players the Cubs may want is worth the deal. Trading for Bryant immediately puts the Mets in the driver’s seat for the NL East for this year and next. It is time to see if “win now” is just words or really held as a prime objective.