The Wilpons, through the trade deadline actions of Brodie Van Wagenen, have signaled how they want to handle their waning days of ownership:
No surrender. Go for it.
In 2019, when that could have been the Wilpons’ final year of ownership, the Mets used prospect capital and money to land Marcus Stroman in what appeared to be a hopeless postseason situation. They finished strong, but did not make the playoffs. And this year, in what was supposed to be the fringe benefit of having Stroman — his walk year — the righty was at first injured then decided to opt out of playing.
The Mets did not take on the expense or mortgage quite the prospect quality to obtain Miguel Castro, Robinson Chirinos and Todd Frazier. But the flurry on deadline day showed the Wilpons want a shot at a last hurrah. And since this is a season in which you cannot lose your way out of contention, sure, why not?
The Mets were beaten Friday for the sixth time in eight games, losing 5-3 to the Phillies. They were five games under .500 (17-22), tied for the fourth worst record in the NL, and there were three weeks left. Yet, the Mets were just two games out of the final wild card, and Fangraphs was still giving them a 41 percent chance to make the playoffs.
But here is what I have been thinking about a lot recently: Forget the Wilpons, what does Steve Cohen want? He is a limited partner and a lifelong fan of the team, so yes, reaching the playoffs would be terrific. Look, with everything wrong with this club, do you think the better-than-everyone-in-the-NL-by-miles Dodgers want to see Jacob deGrom in Game 1 of a fickle best-of-three?
Assuming Cohen finishes off his purchase with the Wilpons and gains the ownership votes necessary to join their country club, he would probably be in a better position to sell even a flawed playoff team to hopefully returning-to-Citi fans than the opposite. But those who know Cohen have described an active mind who sees the big picture.
The reality is the Mets are looking at being out of the playoffs for the 12th time in 14 years. If you were him, what would you want to assess in the last month as a first step toward building a roster that perennially plays in October?
1. Seth Lugo in the rotation. He was to make his third start Saturday night, and all signs are he is going to keep doing this until the end of this year. I have steadily debated a scout I respect since the beginning of last year about Lugo’s best role. I thought it was impacting 2-3 games a week as a multi-inning relief force. The scout argued that a cost-controlled potential No. 3 starter was way more valuable. I think I have come around to believe Lugo can be that.
GM Brodie Van Wagenen has traded a lot of pitching prospect inventory in less than two years. Plus, Zack Wheeler is gone. Stroman is a free agent. Steven Matz has again pitched himself out of the rotation. And whether Noah Syndergaard can return effectively for his 2021 walk year after Tommy John surgery is a question. Right now the 2021 rotation is deGrom and … David Peterson? Another try by Matz? Finding more Rick Porcellos and Michael Wachas.
Lugo proving he can handle starting and doing so with high quality is a huge issue moving forward.
2. Andres Gimenez and Luis Guillorme at shortstop. Cohen has the money to do what he wants, and he can just tender contracts to arbitration eligibles Matz, Robert Gsellman and Amed Rosario and see if the Mets can trade them or find more consistent strong performance from them. But all three have track records of underperforming their skill.
In what is expected to be a flooded free-agent market, in which prices might crater, are the Mets better off shopping for replacements?
Gimenez started at short for a second straight game Saturday with Luis Rojas saying he was going with the “hot hand,” but the manager also would not commit that Rosario is still his starting shortstop.
Can the Mets move forward with an inexpensive tandem of Gimenez/Guillorme (with top prospect Ronny Mauricio perhaps arriving in 2022). Why not play Gimenez/Guillorme down the stretch? Would that be worse than Rosario as an all-around entity even in the present? Would you want to see Rosario at least try center field before moving on from him?
One of the first places we might see the power of Cohen’s checkbook (beyond buying the Mets) is the 2021-22 offseason, which could be the greatest free-agent shortstop market ever: Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Trevor Story.
3. Castro in high leverage. The justification for giving up organizational pitching depth to land Stroman last year was not only to try to make the playoffs in 2019, but recognition a key rotation piece was going to be a free agent (Wheeler), that Stroman had another year of control and that the Mets did not want to dabble at the upper end of the starting pitching market.
The justification for yielding Kevin Smith to the Orioles for Castro was similar: Justin Wilson is going to be a free agent, Castro cannot be a free agent until after the 2022 season, and the club does not want to jump into the relief market — considering Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances (who probably will pick up his $6 million player option considering his poor/injury-marred season to date) will cost more than $25 million combined next year.
So the Mets are going to have to depend on Castro (looking at about $2.5 million in 2021) to be a key figure in what could be Steve Cohen’s first bullpen.