Back in 2022, with teams forced to trim their active rosters down from 28 to 26, the Mets decided to move on from Robinson Cano despite owing him $37.5 million on his 10-year, $240 million contract, which was originally signed with the Seattle Mariners. Cano, who was 39 at the time, had only played in 12 games for the Mets, after missing the entire 2021 season while serving a 100-game suspension for violating the MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement for a second time. Many of us hoped that there would be a repeat PED violation for 2022 to get us out from his huge contract and his unproductive play.

In the first few years after arriving in New York along with reliever Edwin Diaz for the 2019 season, many contributors to Mets360 pounded away at the Mets for again mortgaging the future by trading away super outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic. Along with Kelenic, the Mets sent the Mariners veteran outfielder Jay Bruce and right-handed pitchers Anthony Swarzak, Gerson Bautista and Justin Dunn. The Mariners offset part of the salary disparity by shipping $20 million in cash to the Mets and absorbed the rest of Jay Bruce’s $10 million salary. The Mariners had been set to offer more dollars but the trade would have had to include prospect Jeff McNeil. When the Mets substituted Bautista for McNeil the dollars were decreased. Thankfully, McNeil stayed with the Mets.

In five years with Seattle, Cano had hit .296 with 107 HR and 411 RBI and made the All-Star team three times. He had a decent year in 2018 before coming to the Mets, playing in 80 games hitting .303 with 10 HR, 50 RBI and an OPS of .845. Even though he was very much on the wrong side of 30, in 2019, his first year with the Mets, Cano played in 107 games and ended up hitting .256, with 13 HR, 39 RBI and an OPS of .736. He brought veteran leadership to the team and filled a void at second base making only five errors and having a hand in 51 double plays. From an offensive perspective, hanging on to Bruce might have been the better play as in 98 games with the Mariners and Phillies he ended up hitting .216, with 26 HR, 59 RBI and an OPS of .784.

From the Mariners’ rebuilding-mode perspective, the goal of the trade was to rid themselves of Cano’s contract and they sealed the deal by including Diaz, who had just come off a 57-save campaign. While Cano probably provided the offense he was capable of, Diaz was essentially a disaster. In 2019 he appeared in 66 games, earning just 26 saves to go along with giving up 15 HR and a dreadful 5.59 ERA. While his strikeout rate of 15.4/9 was amazing, he also averaged 3.4 BB/9.

Many considered this to be a hugely lopsided deal in losing “can’t miss” prospect Kelenic, even though it still took a number of years for him to advance to the big club. As far as the other players the Mariners received, Bruce was shipped to the Phillies for a prospects and none of the other three lasted long on their roster. For the Mariners it was all about Kelenic and shedding payroll.

Kelenic did not have a great start for the Mariners. He made it the big club in 2021 and hit all of .181 over 93 games with an OPS of .615. In 2022, over 54 games, he hit .141 with an OPS of .534. In 2023 he appeared to turn the corner, increasing his average to .253 and his OPS to .746. This past July, he managed to break his left foot in a stupid dugout display of anger and was not reactivated until well into September. While he still might turn into that five-tool star, the play of Diaz over 2021 and 2022, where he recorded 32 saves each year, makes this trade a win for the Mets, even considering that he was lost for the entire 2023 season after a WBC knee injury.

The reality is that prospects are just what they appear to be – the potential to turn into something successful in the future. Every organization is filled with prospects and we watch as they progress up the minor league ranks and marvel as some make it to the big leagues more quickly than others. A few years ago, the Braves needed to move up two AA prospects onto their MLB roster due to injuries and both flourished. That is certainly the exception.

We often see that many prospects struggle at the MLB level, including several with the Mets, who end up shuttling back and forth between Citi Field and Syracuse trying to improve their game. When you consider that there are only 780 MLB players at a time (based on 30 teams and a roster of 26) it is nearly impossible to make it all the way up. And if the odds weren’t long enough, add to that the many studies, most of which were done several years ago, that concluded that the average MLB playing career is less than six years and most are retired before the age of 30.

As the offseason, free agency and wheeling and dealing have or are about to start, given the average MLB career, is it not worth it to trade some prospects for established players who have already established themselves at the MLB level? Certainly, something to consider.

16 comments on “One more look at the Jarred Kelenic trade

  • Dan Capwell

    Diaz blew 7 saves in 2019 and the Mets finished three games out of the WC that year. Had he converted 40% of those, the Mets would have gotten into the playoffs (most likely).

    Kudos to him for turning it around in such dramatic fashion. Usually, players that get that far behind the 8-ball in NYC never come back from it.

  • T.J.

    In spite of the reality the Kelenic did not come up and tear the league apart, and despite Diaz’s turn around and elite 2022, I cannot view this trade as a win for the Mets. At this point, at best it is a push. Kelenic is still young and can mature into some fine low cost seasons. Cano was a train wreck. We’ll need to see what the post knee injury Diaz will be. School’s still out.

  • Mike W

    The Mariners trade sure looked like a big loss in the first year. But it evened out. The Mariners are now looking for players who can put the bat on the ball. Could we see a McNeil for a starting pitcher trade?

    The one that stings now is Pete Crow. Let’s see how he pans out for the Cubs.

  • TexasGusCC

    TJ and Mike, I agree with both and want to throw in that the Mariners rushed Kelenic when he obviously couldn’t touch a breaking ball. DiPoto wanted to take a victory lap and the kid had the numbers; but he couldn’t touch a MLB curve and that was pretty obvious.

    The Mariners took advantage of the Wilponian Mets by paying down some
    salary and accepting the Mets’ castoffs in getting a better prospect. If the Mets merely took Cano and Diaz with no strings attached, doubtful the Mets have to give Kelenic.

  • Bob P

    Regardless of how each of the players involved in the trade ultimately performed, at the time is was a big overpay by the Mets. While it’s true that prospects offer no guarantees, they do have value long before they ever produce at the MLB level. Kelenic was a very highly rated prospect at the time and had a lot of value. In addition to that the Mariners were looking to get out from under Cano’s salary. The Mets should have gotten more at the time in a trade that included Kelenic, when they were taking on an albatross of a contract. Whether Kelenic becomes a superstar or a bust doesn’t change that.

    • TexasGusCC

      Bingo! And, Cano had a no trade clause so when he said he would only take a trade to the Mets, that was like one big hug from him that the Mets pissed away!

  • Nym6986

    It might also be that the Mets viewed the trade under the win now scenario, and with 86 wins in 2019 they were not wrong by much. I believe all their starters had winning records, Pete hit 53 bombs and McNeil hit .318 with 25 HR. Lugo was good in the pen, but Diaz and the rest stunk up the joints and there went the season.. McNeil has good trade value but I’d rather keep him and all his added value of playing multiple positions.

  • Mike W

    Editor’s Note – If you want to discuss something besides the actual article, please use the Wednesday Open Thread.

  • Brian Joura

    As Bob says, it was a big overpay at the time, compounded by the fact that they didn’t shop Kelenic around to see what others would have given for him.

    The Mets got lucky with Cano, with the suspension keeping them from a full year of paying him and the shortened Covid year making his six-week hot streak more valuable, along with again not having to pay as much as they would otherwise.

    With the suspension, Covid year and two teams paying a portion of his salary in 2022, the Mets paid Cano roughly $80 million for 1.4 fWAR of production

    From 2019 to 2022, the Mets paid Diaz $19.7 million for 6 fWAR of production

    The Mets spent roughly $100 million for 7.4 fWAR – meaning they paid about $13.5 million per fWAR received. Since free agent dollars are around $8 million per unit of fWAR – and Diaz had one season of pre-arb pricing and three arbitration years – this is a staggeringly bad use of resources.

    And in that time the Mets won a single playoff game.

    There’s no way on earth one can spin this as a good deal, just focusing on what the Mets received. And then you add in that they gave up a guy who just posted a 109 OPS+ in his age-23 season (compared to the 69 OPS+ of Vientos and 65 mark of Baty at the same age) and this trade is every bit as bad as it looked at the time it happened.

    And that’s not even considering the 0 fWAR for Diaz after he signed his big deal before free agency. Yeah, insurance covered most of that, but the Mets lost out on a prime year of Diaz.

    • TexasGusCC

      One night in the chatter, you were there along with Name, Metsense ands maybe others, and I looked at the free agent contracts of several recent big signings, including Judge. If you recall, the amount paid was about $5.5MM per WAR for the last three years of average WAR per year. I believe that FanGraphs amount is for the entirety of baseball, including bit players and injured players. I don’t know that it will be for a newly signed free agent.

      • Brian Joura

        Go to the Value section on FG, which is at the bottom of the player page. At the far right of the Value section are two columns, WAR and Dollars, with the latter showing you what FG thinks his production is worth on the open market. Here are the numbers for Judge:

        2023 – WAR, 5.3; Dollars, 42.6 – value of $8.4 million per unit of WAR
        2022 – WAR, 11.6; Dollars, 92.7 – value of $8 million per unit of WAR
        2021 – WAR, 5.6; Dollars, 44.8 – value of $8 million per unit of WAR

        • TexasGusCC

          LOL to what they think! I’m talking reality. What player is getting $90MM for $11.6MM of WAR? What did Trout get when he was getting year after year of close to 10 WAR? At the time, FanGraphs was claiming $6.5MM per WAR. I’m talking reality with real numbers and proof, as I showed you that night. Y’all can believe whatever else you want. For Lindor’s average 6 WAR seasons in Cleveland, did the Mets pay $48MM per year? Enough of this dream nonsense with FanGraphs claims.

  • Brian Joura

    FG is one of the most respected baseball sites out there and their stats undergo vigorous testing before being pushed to the public.

    You run a restaurant.

  • José Hunter

    Brian, who runs a restaurant?

    The following is nothing close to a scientific assessment, and absolutely nothing close to a mathematical proof. It’s just an observation/impression, albeit the type of assessment about which I’m usual correct, even if my clumsy expression doesn’t make it immediately obvious

    I like FG (assuming we’re talking about the same thing). Their number crunching is above reproach. However, what is most noteworthy is that they go absolutely nuts with their esoteric statistical analysis; this is so overboard that it succeeds in evoking my disinterest, which seems really unlikely to do.

    Keep in mind that I am not a statistician; further, we¹ don’t even consider Prob & Stats to be actual math; more like a “mathematical science”

    Anyway, the net result is that all that (admittedly low-brow) statistical analysis should be very interesting to me of all people, and it just isn’t. The non-scientific word that comes to mind is “pretense”

    I’m a big fan of Moneyball-type advanced metrics² era. And two of the very significant names in said era were Bill James and Voros. And these guys weren’t PhD stats³­ people. They were just normies who had a truly different way of looking at things, and found people willing to listen to and try to understand them

    It just seems to me that the Moneyball “explosion” was such a profound, immediate game changer, that 20+ years after, these stats geeks should have come up with something which has, as we say, more statistical significance

    And to wrap up this barrage of words that didn’t really say a whole lot, I actually much prefer Mets360. My impression is that the pretense and posturing is checked at the door, but that doesn’t mean the content is fluff. There is much deep content here that I look forward to reading. And the best part is that I don’t have to come up with that deep content

    1. In this case, “we” represents the kind of weirdo that thinks stats is not math
    2. Another math term with deeply terrifying meanings/implications. To you normies, it just means “measure” (noun not verb)
    3. Is it possible to earn a doctorate in straight stats? I’ve never known such person, and I’m the kind of dude who personally knows far more math PhDs that any normie might

    • Brian Joura

      Among other schools, you can get a doctorate in statistics at NC State

      Ph.D. Programs

    • TexasGusCC

      Thank you José. He was talking to me. All I can do is present the math as I see it. I do my write fire FanGraphs, I make pizza, strombolis, and lasagna and piccata.

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