The Mets are not in a rebuilding mode and GM Billy Eppler made that clear Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. Though trades of pitchers David Robertson and Max Scherzer would say the Mets are looking at 2024 and beyond.
It’s obvious, though, Eppler is answering owner Steve Cohen by instituting a restructure phase of a Mets team that has underachieved. Still to be determined, as the trade deadline approaches (Tuesday 6pm ET) who could be next on the block?
Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, after winning his 250th career game, Justin Verlander awaited his future. The 3x Cy Young winner reached that milestone as the Mets took three of four with their 5-2 win over the lowly Nationals. Verlander has posted a 1.43 ERA over his last 7 outings to increase his stock, but this is all about the deadline and a direction for the Mets who still have an outside shot at a third NL Wild Card, 6-½ games off the pace.
Though, logic says the Mets don’t stand a chance for the postseason, obviously the same thoughts of the Mets hierarchy with the trades of Robertson to the Miami Marlins and Scherzer to the Texas Rangers. Look, we have heard, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” and the Mets have not conceded their chances as you still hear the fight from players in their clubhouse.
In reality, though, selling and not buying before the deadline is more than shedding salary. A return of top prospects from the Marlins and Rangers means a restructure and fortifying their minor league system. Yes, I expect the owner to keep his team competitive and provide the fan base an opportunity to win and not rebuild, no denying that Cohen has the assets to invest wisely for bullpen help and work around Verlander in the rotation.
“I do want to be clear that it’s not a rebuild,” Eppler said. “It’s not a fire sale. It’s not a liquidation. We’re going to listen but our price points are high. We have valuations on our existing personnel and the bar is high to meet it, but we are willing in certain circumstances to use Steve’s investment and kind of repurpose that investment to serve the larger goal, which is to build a championship organization.”
Eppler said, “We just couldn’t get the consistency going.” There in a nutshell is a theme of the 2023 season, a reason to sell as I previously mentioned here last week. And it has been more of this richest payroll in baseball ($355 million) with a roster questioning why they have not played to the numbers on the back of their baseball cards.
So what does this all mean? A longtime NL executive, who knows about trade deadlines informed me, it’s no secret about Verlander and his contract with a no-trade clause, as was the situation with Scherzer.
He also said more than one team is in the hunt for Verlander. You can take a look at the standings to narrow the list. Outfielders Mark Canha and Tommy Pham are predominantly mentioned in trade talk and the Mets can benefit with a return of the right prospects.
Eppler said it is about shifting the investment and is listening to all offers that come to the table. The philosophy before the deadline is not to rebuild and remain competitive with the luxury of buying into free agents that won’t come at that hefty cost of a Scherzer or Verlander. The liberty of an owner who knows something about spending comes into the equation.
But the complexion of this team will change and it already has been established with the departures of Robinson and Scherzer. Difficult to understand after a 101 win season of 2022 and all the expectations that haven’t come to fruition.
Said Verlander about a possible trade ala Scherzer, “I think it largely depends on how the organization views next year. I think it’s a tough sign for trying to go back at it. I’m committed to trying to win a championship here, but if the organization decides that’s not exactly the direction that they think is the best fit to go for next year and go for it again, then yeah, I would be more open to it.”
The vision of course was to win with Scherzer and Verlander. And like Scherzer, who gave his consent with a complicated and lucrative contract, and a return for top prospect Luisangel Acuna, Eppler will be tempted to acquire another top prospect or two.
“I guess it’s kind of wait and see,” Verlander said. “See what opportunities come my way, their way, see who else potentially gets traded There’s a lot of moving parts here. Right now, there’s a lot of gray area. And I can’t make a decision with a bunch of what-ifs.”
Optimism in April waned when Edwin Diaz went down with a freak injury that ended his season before it started at the World Baseball Classic. The bullpen with Robertson struggled, Scherzer got off to a bad start and a pitching substance suspension, Verlander sustained injuries and recently had some resemblance of his overpowering Cy Young Award years.
Such is the dilemma of a trade deadline. And a deadline where the Mets were expected to be buyers and not sellers. But the Mets are not rebuilding and that has been established.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com Rich Mancuso