Friday night’s game was interesting on many levels, not the least of which was two relievers who factored into the decision. Both relievers were on the Cubs and dealt to contenders at the trade deadline. David Robertson went to the Phillies and Mychal Givens went to the Mets. Robertson got the save and Givens got the loss.
Givens hasn’t pitched great since joining the Mets, as he gave up runs in his first three appearances with the club. But he pitched fine last night and only got the loss because of the zombie runner and a throw to the plate that bounced. But Givens wasn’t the ideal relief pitcher acquisition from the Cubs – Robertson was. But the Mets didn’t have what it took to get the better pitcher. Or, they wouldn’t sacrifice what it took to get him.
It’s no secret that the Mets have a top-heavy farm system and after trading a top prospect for a rental last year – a move that failed despite how well Javier Baez played for the Mets – the organization was adamant about not making the same mistake again.
It’s been said that generals are often fighting the last war. And it’s fair to wonder if the same thing happened with the Mets at the trade deadline. With the benefit of hindsight, the Mets probably don’t make the Baez trade, even with how well Trevor Williams has pitched for the club here in 2022 in addition to what Baez gave them last year. But just because trading a prospect didn’t work in 2021, doesn’t mean that it’s destined to fail again the next time you try it.
Steve Cohen has said that he wants to build a club like the Dodgers, one that includes a farm system that regularly produces major league players. But the reality is the farm system can create major leaguers in two ways. One is to promote them and reap their benefits. And the other is to trade guys from your system to acquire guys that you need in the majors. Let’s look at the Dodgers for the example.
Just looking at their hitters, we see Will Smith, Gavin Lux and Cody Bellinger came from their farm system. But Mookie Betts and Trea Turner were acquired with prospects. Now, some might argue that the Dodgers needed to wait to get to the position where they could trade top prospects but still had depth in the system. And the reason the Mets didn’t pull the trigger was that they didn’t have the depth.
Top prospects are assets and no one should advocate for being reckless with that particular class of asset. But not every trade of a top prospect is reckless. And often times the best outcome is to trade a top prospect before he busts.
My belief was that the Mets did not need to make a trade for a reliever. But my thoughts were that they needed a power RHB and if they were going to trade for one of those, they might as well have picked up a reliever in the deal, too, if that was an option.
While others dreamed of Shohei Ohtani or Juan Soto, my target was for the Mets to pick up Willson Contreras. And as long as they were getting Contreras, they may as well have gotten Robertson, too. Conteras was a rental but that was fine, as the Mets’ top prospect was a catcher who should debut next season.
We don’t know what the Cubs were asking for Contreras. But it must have been a lot, since he wasn’t dealt at all. We don’t know what the cost for Contreras and Robertson together would have been but it’s clear that it would have taken one of the half-dozen guys the Mets made off limits. And perhaps more than just one player.
But let’s engage in a hypothetical. Say the Mets could have gotten Contreras and Robertson for Mark Vientos and Saul Gonzalez, the guy they traded to the Cubs for Givens. Would you do that trade? The Mets drew the line at trading Vientos – but was that a mistake?
Vientos has great power but he may not be able to play anywhere in the field except first base. He’s been a third baseman but no one was thrilled with his defense. He was tried in left field last year but didn’t win any raves there, either. But the bat plays.
And the thing is the Mets have a prospect right behind Vientos in Brett Baty. No one will accuse Baty of being a great defensive player but it’s possible he can play 3B in the majors. Additionally, Baty is likely a better all-around offensive player than Vientos, too.
If your guiding principle is not to trade top prospects until you have depth, isn’t having Baty the type of depth that should allow you to trade Vientos?
Hey, it’s certainly possible the Cubs wanted even more than Vientos to trade Contreras. We’ll probably never know what their asking price was. But in my opinion, making Vientos off limits in trade talks was a mistake.
You have to judge trades in at least two different ways. The first is did you get close to top value for the asset(s) you traded away at the time of the deal. And the second is how the deal worked out in reality. My opinion is trading Vientos for Contreras would have been close to top value, given that the Mets were in a pennant race and definitely needed an offensive upgrade at catcher. There’s a bunch of different ways that trade could have worked out in reality. One is that Contreras played well but the Mets didn’t win the World Series before he left. And Vientos went on to hit 300 HR in the majors.
That’s where you have to apply your own trade calculus. You have to make trades in the moment – you don’t get the benefit of hindsight. My personal calculus is to weigh the deal more on value at the time, over results, maybe 70/30 in favor of current value. You can flip those results and still have a reasonable take. It’s that gray area where reasonable people can disagree.
When I was in Boston, the Red Sox traded a minor leaguer for Larry Andersen, a reliever they needed badly at the time. Andersen was great and the Red Sox may not have made the playoffs without his contributions. The guy they traded was a third baseman, one stuck behind Wade Boggs. There was a little blowback at the time about the trade but most Red Sox fans felt good with the deal.
What happened with the prospect? The Astros moved him to first base and Jeff Bagwell went on to a Hall of Fame career.
It may seem odd that a guy who just told you it was more important to weight a trade by what was thought at the time then goes on to mention the Andersen-Bagwell deal. But it’s the perfect illustration of why reasonable people can disagree with how to measure a trade. The “results” people can point to Bagwell and claim victory. But virtually no one at the time thought that the minor leaguer who was dealt was going to be a Hall of Famer.
Bagwell hit 449 HR in his career. At the time he was dealt, he had 4 HR in 569 PA at Double-A New Britain. People thought he would hit. They just didn’t think he was going to be a great power hitter on top of being a great AVG hitter. At least some of that was not having a full appreciation for how tough New Britain was for hitters. And some of that was Bagwell developing after the trade. Bagwell hit 15 HR his first year in the majors with Houston. Three years later he hit 39.
No one in their right mind thought the Bagwell who was being dealt would turn into the guy he did. So why would we make the biggest determinant of the deal be what happened after the fact?
Maybe the Mets trade Vientos to the Cubs, they move him to first base and he’s the second coming of Bagwell. But if you try to claim that the current trade value of Vientos is Bagwell – well, you’re never going to trade him because no one would pay that price. They would be fools to trade for him with those expectations, too, even with Vientos displaying much more power in the minors than Bagwell did.
The Mets made Vientos off limits in trade talk at the deadline. Essentially, they valued him at Bagwell prices. It’s certainly their right to value their players however they wish. But you can be criticized for holding onto players and passing up a good deal, just as you can be criticized for trading away a guy who ends up doing better than anyone dreamed.
My fear is that the Mets failed to make a move with Vientos when his trade value was highest. And his greatest value to the club is as a trade chit, not as a guy to wear the uniform for 15 years.