New York Mets: Final 2017 Trade Deadline Grades
Combining an underwhelming season with several veterans playing out expiring contracts, the chips fell perfectly for the New York Mets to sell before Monday's non-waiver trade deadline. An inopportune market and desire to bounce back next season interfered.
While they pawned Lucas Duda and Addison Reed to American League East contenders seeking an extra contributor, the 2015 National League champions made it clear they're not rebuilding, but rather regrouping for 2018.
In addition to exchanging upcoming free agents, they surprisingly added A.J. Ramos from the Miami Marlins. The reliever will likely replace the departed Reed as their closer down the stretch, but he will also stick around as Jeurys Familia's setup man next season.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson had a eventful deadline, but fans probably anticipated more activity. Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker, all upcoming free agents, remain on the roster. Yet it's possible they could clear waivers to facilitate August maneuvers.
Let's break down the moves the Mets did and didn't make before grading their deadline performance.
The Big Deal: A.J. Ramos
RHP Merandy Gonzalez and OF Ricardo Cespedes to Miami Marlins for RP A.J. Ramos
Wait, weren't the Mets supposed to sell?
They caught onlookers off guard Friday night by acquiring Ramos, a 30-year-old closer, from their National League East competitors. Alderson otherwise would have needed to address a unit touting baseball's fourth-worst ERA in the offseason.
They parted ways with 21-year-old pitching prospect Merandy Gonzalez and 19-year-old outfielder Ricardo Cespedes, whom MLB.com respectively placed No. 6 and 24 in Miami's updated farm rankings.
This foreshadowed a Reed trade and diminished the odds of him coming back a la Aroldis Chapman with the New York Yankees last year. Ramos, Jerry Blevins and Familia will instead headline next year's bullpen.
Ramos has registered an underwhelming 3.98 ERA and 1.35 WHIP this season, but he continues to pile up the strikeouts (47 in 40.2 innings) and sports a 2.82 career ERA. Although closers are given preferential treatment in arbitration, the move allows the Mets to avoid overpaying a free agent with a long-term deal.
Removing one of the top relief targets off the market also enhanced their leveraging power to move Reed.
Other Moves: Lucas Duda and Addison Reed
1B Lucas Duda to Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Drew Smith
For eight years, Lucas Duda never quite received enough recognition.
The first baseman crushed 125 home runs with an .802 OPS during his unheralded tenure with the Mets. Per Baseball-Reference.com, his 121 adjusted OPS (OPS+) ties Carlos Delgado for 10th on the franchise's all-time leaderboard.
Due to his contract, limited defense and trouble staying healthy, he remained undervalued in a market placing a low emphasis on power. The Tampa Bay Rays rented him for Drew Smith, a 23-year-old reliever now ranked as New York's No. 30 prospect by MLB.com.
It's a fairly light return for an above-average hitter, but Smith throws hard and wields an intriguing curveball. The Mets weren't getting Brent Honeywell for a two-month power jolt, and Dominic Smith is ready to take over the position next year, if not next week.
RP Addison Reed to Boston Red Sox for RHPs Stephen Nogosek, Jamie Callahan and Gerson Bautista
As expected, the Ramos acquisition prompted a Reed trade. As confirmed on Monday, they shipped their closer to the Boston Red Sox for a trio of right-handed relievers.
Although they didn't land a blue-chip prospect, they bolstered their farm with some intriguing arms. Stephen Nogosek, Jamie Callahan and Gerson Bautista, each 22 years old, respectively ranked No. 18, 23 and 28 in Boston's farm by MLB.com, per Ian Browne.
The Red Sox bolstered their playoff hunt with a high-leverage reliever who posted a 2.09 ERA since joining the Mets in late 2015. The Mets purchased three scratch-off tickets in hopes of one blossoming into a future bullpen replacement.
Mets fan will want more, especially after watching the Yankees turn Chapman into Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren and more last summer. It would have been nice to have instead received one significant position player or starting pitching prospect, but they instead stacked the farm with hard-throwing relievers capable of contributing next season.
The Missed Opportunities
The Mets didn't move all of their veterans on expiring contracts. Cabrera, Walker, Granderson and Bruce all stayed put past the non-waiver deadline.
Ideally, they would have cleared the cupboard entirely and handed over their infield to younger talents. Batting .287/.320/.486 with 11 homers in 266 plate appearances, Wilmer Flores deserves regular playing time down the stretch, and first baseman Dominic Smith is ready for his major league debut. Employing and starting Jose Reyes remains unexplainable.
Despite keeping Cabrera and Reyes, the Mets announced plans to promote top prospect Amed Rosario an hour after the deadline. So they waited to make a move they should have made months ago despite nothing changing.
They also failed to unclog their outfield, which could force Bruce to first to avoid a four-man platoon. Otherwise a slumping Granderson should become the odd-man out, in which case he might as well sit on a contender's bench instead.
Blevins also would have commanded interest as a left-handed specialist, but the Mets had no intentions of downgrading their 2018 roster.
One or more of those veteran position players could clear waivers. Having returned from a hamstring injury on Friday, Walker would particularly entice a buyer if he produces in August. Only nine second basemen accrued more FanGraphs WAR from 2014 to 2016.
Reyes hit .302 in July, so maybe someone will give Alderson a $20 iTunes gift card. Just kidding. Maybe $10.
Projecting Trade Impact
All three moves were made with the future bullpen in mind.
Ramos will earn less in arbitration than Reed will demand in free agency, but the erratic acquisition represents a downgrade from their first-half closer. Nevertheless, he's a solid piece for 2018.
Callahan, who has compiled 36 strikeouts in 29 Triple-A innings after dominating Double-A, should compete for a big league job next year. Drew Smith has only pitched 6.2 innings in Double-A and Triple-A, so he will spend most of 2018 proving he belongs in New York's bullpen.
Although Nogosek has the highest ceiling of the four relief prospects acquired, he has issued 21 walks in 53 Single-A frames this year. Bautista is also an unpolished talent, but one who can occasionally hit triple digits.
In Gonzalez, however, the Mets gave up a better prospect than any they received. Cespedes—no relation to Yoenis—is an interesting athlete with a quick bat and powerful arm.
Rather than improving their farm system, the Mets focused on 2018. That will hopefully include a healthier rotation and younger infield featuring Rosario at short and Dominic Smith at first.
Since Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes are both corner outfielders, the Mets need a true center fielder, even if they extend another opportunity to Juan Lagares. According to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, Alderson said he can envision Conforto handling the more demanding role. That may mean they re-sign Bruce, who has belted 27 home runs.
Final Trade Deadline Grade
There's still time for waiver transactions, but the Mets left many pieces on the table before the non-waiver window closed. And they didn't get back a single position player or starting pitcher.
They didn't walk away winners or losers from any of the three deals. All were fine. Yet few sellers stockpile minor league relievers at the deadline, because that's an awfully weird strategy.
After all, prospect-hunting is widely volatile without chasing baseball's most fickle position. Solid middle relievers often vanish after brief success. Valuable contributors often emerge from nowhere. These are lottery tickets with limited payouts.
Alderson turned two months of Carlos Beltran into Zack Wheeler six years ago, but he faced a far different market this summer. Nobody is coughing up A-list prospects for a rental unless he's solely capable of changing the playoff landscape. Duda and Reed, nice upgrades for the Rays and Red Sox, don't do that.
The Mets would receive a "B" if not for all the missed opportunities. While there's little they can do if nobody expressed interest, even receiving pennies for Cabrera or Granderson would be better than nothing. It's likely the Mets balked to avoid making a perceived bad deal, leaving disposal assets to deteriorate on their roster.
They can improve their grade by completing extra-credit assignments in August, but the Mets currently receive a satisfactory, yet unspectacular appraisal.
Final Grade: B-