The Mets are in first place, but there is pressure on them to make a late MLB trade-deadline move to bolster their pitching.
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When the Mets traded for Marcus Stroman in July 2019, he had just one-plus year until free agency. That made him a strange acquisition because the Mets were five games under .500, hopelessly behind in the NL East and six back in the wild card.
There also was a good deal of industry buzz that too much was sacrificed in Anthony Kay and particularly Simeon Woods Richardson to pursue a Mets pipe dream.
To date, though, the Mets have yet to be burned. Stroman actually accepted a qualifying offer to extend his stay an extra year while Kay has been ineffective in multiple major league stints and Woods Richardson has lost some velocity and pitched poorly at Double-A — albeit at age 20, so with plenty of time to right himself.
The 2021 Mets are in a far more advantageous July position. They have a 3 ¹/₂-game lead in a bumbling NL East in which the Braves and Marlins have never been above .500 this year. The Nationals’ high point was two over and — like the Marlins — they are sellers. The Phillies were once four games over. That was when they were 5-1 on April 7.
It is possible that the Mets could do nothing else at the trade deadline beyond Rich Hill and win the division for the first time since 2015. But that doesn’t fit with a new owner who will want more than that.
Minnesota’s Jose Berrios is in the same category as Stroman in 2019 — an ace on a non-contender who is viewed more as a strong No. 2-3 outside the organization and has one-plus year to free agency. A factor in the Mets wanting Stroman was they knew they would be losing Zack Wheeler to free agency in the way they anticipate that for Stroman this offseason.
The Mets have talked regularly with Minnesota but consistently felt the asking price too high — likely Ronny Mauricio was desired. The Twins were hearing enough from other contenders to believe they would be dealing Berrios before the Friday 4 p.m. trade deadline. The Mets were more locked in with the Cubs. But at what level?
Zach Davies would fall into the Hill-ish bin of inning protection. Kris Bryant would bring a bat, positional flexibility and pizzazz. Craig Kimbrel would help make the Mets more impenetrable over the final nine outs. Some combination probably should not be ruled out.
But there is pressure to do something, even while being atop a weak division. The Mets did not handle a search for a president of baseball operations well, their pivot to a GM brought Jared Porter and humiliation, and their draft might end up being a disaster as they may be unable to do a deal with first-round pick Kumar Rocker by the 5 p.m. Sunday deadline. This is another moment to show a new administration that has done a lot right — namely build depth — can handle a huge moment on the baseball calendar.
Who else is feeling the crunch as the clock ticks:
They removed little stuff by dealing Joc Pederson, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera, then went huge by moving Anthony Rizzo to the Yankees for two prospects lower down in the system. Rizzo, in his walk year, is the kind of left-handed tough at-bat/sound first-base defense that should help the Yankees.
There is a general sense that Bryant and Kimbrel will follow and more doubt that Javier Baez will join them. The Cubs are pivoting away from one of the best runs in their history — what they do leading up to the deadline will help determine how fast they return to contention.
The NL West favorites lost two of three to the Giants to fall three games back and what followed Thursday night — word that they were trying to land Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Nationals. There were many in the sport who felt the Dodgers wanted to make a splash not only to win a ninth straight NL West title, but to try to change the subject away from their Trevor Bauer debacle.
This would be quite the splash — near certainly the best starter and best position player traded at this deadline going in one mega-deal to a club trying to repeat as champions.
These were supposed to be the Dodgers’ main NL West foes after their offseason buildup. But let’s just say if the Rays offer a starting pitcher, run in the opposite direction — or had you not noticed that Blake Snell had a 5.44 ERA? That is why even after obtaining Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, San Diego was pushing for Scherzer. If he was going to the Dodgers, there was expectation of a pivot to Minnesota ace Jose Berrios.
After all, why stop? The Padres are projected over the luxury tax — perhaps the biggest surprise to ever do that — and not only were they losing ground in the division, the Reds were gaining ground for the second wild card. Not making the playoffs at all would be a disaster for this franchise.
The clubhouse and fan base were infuriated when thriving closer Kendall Graveman was traded a few days back to the AL West-leading Astros. Abraham Toro was a good return for a walk-year reliever. But it breached faith for a franchise that has gone the longest (since 2001) not making the playoffs among the four major sports. GM Jerry Dipoto promised it should be viewed in the context of a bigger picture in which the Mariners were not surrendering on 2021. Since then, Tyler Anderson and Diego Castillo were obtained. Neither will restore faith. Berrios would and the Mariners were believed among the teams pursuing the Twins ace.
After the Mariners, the Phillies are in the longest playoff drought — absent since 2011. There is so much wrong with the structure of the roster and yet the postseason absence, big investments in Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, plus a want-to-win owner in John Middleton and a go-for-it head of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski scream that the team will try to upgrade.
Oh yeah, there is one other reason. The Mets are vulnerable. The Mets have not pulled away. They have left the door open. Like the Mets, the Phillies do not have a deep system. Unlike the Mets, the Phillies do not have glamor prospects like Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty. How much could either team do before the deadline to outfox the other and hold off the Braves?
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Joel Sherman