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.