With the Mets adding prospects with three trades so far this season, it seemed like a good time to talk minor leaguers with David Groveman. This piece initially started out discussing the trade with the Marlins, only to be eclipsed by the one with the Rangers. If we were smart, we’d hold off on this just to make sure that there wasn’t another big deal in the remaining time before the deadline hits. Instead, we decided to blow up that bridge, if necessary, with another piece. Here’s our email exchange:
David: The Mets traded Max Scherzer to the Texas Rangers for Ronald Acuna’s younger brother, Luisangel Acuna. This is a star prospect who has tons of speed with a little power and the look of a future starting shortstop. I’m very happy with the return but I’m staggered by the Mets eating another $36 million loss to make it happen. Do you see an end to the bottomless wallet of Steve Cohen?
Brian: Cohen himself has stated that he can’t suffer losses like those he’s taking this year indefinitely. But actions speak louder than words. It’s my opinion that Scherzer plus $36 million should have gotten the Mets more than a mid-Top 100 prospect. It’s great that he’s a shortstop; he’s not going to play that position on the Mets. And I’m far from sold that our Acuna will be anything but a singles hitter. Now, his speed mitigates that somewhat, as plenty of those singles will wind up with him on second base. Guess I view his upside comp as former Marlin and Met Luis Castillo. He played parts of 15 years in the majors and had four seasons where he posted at least a 3.0 fWAR. That’s valuable and I’m not trying to pretend otherwise.
But what if he doesn’t reach his upside of Castillo and he’s Dee-Strange Gordon, instead? Strange-Gordon played parts of 11 seasons in the majors, two with at least a 3.0 fWAR and eight where he produced less than a 1.0 mark. To me, it’s an underwhelming return. I really, really hope that I’m wrong.
David: My recent Top 20 ranked Parada first with Mauricio second and I do feel like Acuna slots in well between the two despite the offensive potential of Mauricio being higher. The reason here has a lot to do with the mismanagement of the Mets when it comes to Mauricio, who shouldn’t have been playing shortstop for years at this point. If the Mets had any foresight, Mauricio would have likely already been a major league outfielder and have graduated off of our top prospects list. As things are, he still has no true defensive home and his ranking suffers for it.
Speaking of regrets for the deal above there were a few Texas Rangers prospects I would have sought out above Acuna. Owen White, Brock Porter and Jack Leiter would have all gone a long way to restocking a farm system with a dearth of starting pitching. Looking out to 2024, how do you see the Mets building a rotation without Scherzer and with little farm help waiting in the wings?
Brian: While acknowledging your defensive concerns, the guy succeeding at Triple-A at age 22 who has increased his AVG, OBP, SLG, BB% and cut his K% – all while seeing a 34-point decrease in his BABIP – from an already-solid age-21 season at Double-A, has to be first for me. My top three would be Mauricio, Parada and Blade Tidwell. The latter got off to a rough start but in his last 12 games, Tidwell is 8-0 with a 1.56 ERA and a 1.105 WHIP. Additionally, he’s limited opposing batters to a .558 OPS. Both Parada and Tidwell are at the same level, playing in a pitcher-friendly park, which is why Parada ranks higher.
As for the 2024 MLB rotation, my hope is that David Peterson rebounds here down the stretch to be considered the replacement for Carlos Carrasco as the fifth starter. A full season of both Justin Verlander and Jose Quintana will go a long way. And Kodai Senga seems to have erased any worry about making the transition from Japan to the U.S. Which means the club will have to dive into free agency for the final starter. The white whale is Shohei Ohtani but that has to be considered a long shot. There are a bunch of domestic hurlers who are interesting and another star from Japan will be available, too. Essentially, there’s work to be done but it’s not a huge worry. The bullpen will need a lot more work.
Finally, the Mets picked up two teenagers in complex-league ball for David Robertson. My opinion is that Billy Eppler maximized the return for Robertson here. Generally speaking, teams don’t trade elite prospects for old relievers on expiring contracts, certainly not ones in Double-A. While Marco Vargas and Ronald Hernandez are years away from contributing at the MLB level – and may not make it at all – there’s a lot to like about both of them. You can absolutely be a top-10 prospect while being in the lowest level of the U.S. affiliated leagues, as Francisco Alvarez was not too long ago. So, I’m bullish on this deal. What’s your take?
David: I agree that when you are trading a reliever, your return is almost guaranteed to be a player outside a team’s Top 10 and you either sacrifice floor or ceiling. Here, the Mets get two young players who slot safely into the team’s Top 20 and who have the ability to rise up into the Top 10 if they continue on their trajectories. I’ve slotted them in at 15th and 16th overall for the Met system. Fans aren’t going to love a deal like this because the names you get aren’t going to reach Queens for 3-4 seasons minimum but the Mets got two players who can make that trip given time. If I’m allowed to, I’d like to add one final conversation to our discourse.
The Mets traded Eduardo Escobar in a similar, cash infused, deal earlier this season, and brought back solid, albeit second tier, in Coleman Crow and Landon Marceaux. Crow had been hurt and may not pitch for the Mets in 2023 but appears to be among the more solid pitching prospects in the Mets organization. Marceaux, on the other hand, has pitched and extremely poorly. With the Mets expected to trade lesser names like Tommy Pham, Mark Canha, Carlos Carrasco, Brooks Raley, Omar Narvaez and Adam Ottavino it is doubtful that any other prospect acquired will crack the Top 10 do you think the Mets will lean towards the Robertson (high ceiling) trade or the Escobar (safer trajectory) one?
Brian: Crow was injured at the time of the trade, probably the only reason he was available in a deal. The take then was that the Mets were convinced the injury wasn’t going to be a long-term issue. My immediate reaction was that Crow had a chance to remain a starter, while Marceaux was almost certainly destined for the pen.
Robertson was one of the four-best pieces the Mets had to deal, along with Scherzer, Pete Alonso and Verlander. With the possible exception of Raley, none of the other players the Mets may deal here at the deadline would return what Robertson did. Honestly, if the Mets get a top-20 prospect for any of the remaining names on your list, they should be happy. With that as our backdrop, it makes no sense to me to go the safer route. Trade them for lottery tickets, even if all of them fizzle like Wuilmer Becerra did. A five-percent chance of being worthwhile is better than a 95% chance of being the next Sean Reid-Foley.