There has been a lot of buzz the past few days about this ridiculous cover from the New York Daily News.
This idea came from baseball writer John Harper, who suggested that if the New York Mets aren’t in contention in July that they should seriously consider trading Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard. Harper’s rationale comes from the belief that the Mets’ window to win could be slamming shut, especially with the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves appearing to be ahead of schedule with their respective rebuilds. Those two teams have remade their rosters with a collection of impressive young position players, a group that the Mets simply don’t have right now. Michael Conforto appears to be a building block, but it is fair to question if he will ever be the same player the Mets saw last season after a serious shoulder injury. Amed Rosario has all the potential to be a great player, but he hasn’t demonstrated much of it yet. The Mets also have two good first base prospects in Dominic Smith and Peter Alonso, but neither of them has had a chance to prove anything at the big league level.
This paints a mighty bleak picture for the Mets, who are being done in by a run of bad drafting under the Sandy Alderson regime. While most of the sport, headlined by the Braves, Phillies, Houston Astros, and Chicago Cubs loaded up on young hitters the Mets decided to do the opposite. The approach got them to the World Series in 2015, but the Mets haven’t been able to get close to that level of production from their starters since. The exceptions have been Syndergaard and deGrom, which gives the Mets a formidable 1-2 punch on a team that doesn’t have much else going for it right now. The Mets could lock both arms up long term and try to build around them, but Harper notes that trading one or both pitchers could bring back a significant haul of young position players in a deal. Harper also suggests that the Yankees, who have one of the best farm systems in the game flush with young players they simply don’t have room for, would be a good match in a trade since the thing they really need is a front line starting pitcher.
While this makes sense on paper, the idea that the Mets would trade one of their two aces to the Yankees is utter nonsense. There is a better chance of President Trump appointing Kim Jong Un to his cabinet than the Mets willingly helping the Yankees get one step closer to a championship. The Mets have always had an inferiority complex when it comes to the Yankees, and their fans would never let them live it down if Syndergaard or deGrom pitches the Yankees to championships. The Mets and Yankees almost never trade, as Oliver Macklin of MLB.com notes. The two teams have completed only 15 deals since the Mets came into existence in 1962, and the last significant deal between the Mets and Yankees came in 2004, when they swapped lefty relievers Mike Stanton and Felix Heredia.
There was plenty of chatter that the Mets and Yankees would be good trade partners last summer, when the Mets had a lot of pieces that could fit the Yankees’ needs. The Mets and Yankees couldn’t complete any deals, with a Jay Bruce trade falling apart over money and a deadline swap of Neil Walker for a prospect was killed over medical reports. If the Mets and Yankees couldn’t agree to trades for rental players, there is simply no way that the Mets would willingly send an ace who could be the final piece to a Yankee dynasty across town.
This is not to say that Harper is wrong about the Mets’ lack of elite young position players killing the team’s long term chances at success. With deGrom under control through the 2020 season and Syndergaard around through 2021, the Mets could certainly command a haul from any team in need of a big time starting pitcher. The Mets could certainly explore that strategy, but it would still be a mistake. Trading off big stars for hoards of prospects, who may not ever pan out, is a strategy that small market teams have to adopt to survive financially. The Mets play in the biggest media market in the country, have a new stadium and own their television network to help them rank inside the top 10 of the sport in terms of revenue. There is no reason for ownership to continue a small market approach and stick band aids around the rest of the roster to create a facade that this team can contend.
The Mets are going to get eaten alive by the Yankees for years with the way that Brian Cashman masterfully built his roster, and they will become an afterthought quickly to the casual sports fans of the city. There are two important steps that the Mets can take to avoid this happening. The first would be to lock up both deGrom and Syndergaard to long term contracts this winter, signaling to their fan base that they are not going to fold up the tent and give up. The other would be to make a huge free agent splash and land one of the two top young players on the market, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Unlike most of the elite free agents, who reach free agency towards the end of their primes, Harper and Machado will be entering their age 26 seasons in 2019.
As a result, both players will command exorbitant salaries, which will likely scare an increasingly conservative ownership group off. That shouldn’t be the case, especially since the Mets have zero money on their long term books after 2020, when the contracts of David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes, and Bruce all expire. Even the San Diego Padres handed out an eight year contract to 26 year old Eric Hosmer this winter. An eight year deal for Harper or Machado would likely be more expensive in terms of dollars, but it would almost certainly be worth the money since those players would spend their prime as members of the Mets. Machado makes the most sense for the Mets since he can play shortstop or third base, giving them an elite player at an important position who can be the face of the franchise for the next decade. It would also lessen the pressure on the Mets to nail every single draft pick in the next two years since they would have another talented young player to go along with Conforto, Rosario, and hopefully one of either Smith or Alonso. This is the easiest path to success for the Mets, not trading away one of their aces to start a Cubs’ like tank and rebuild job. Fans simply have to hope that someone inside the front office realizes what needs to be done before a golden opportunity passes them by.