If not now when?
The Mets submitted an ultimately disappointing run before the trade deadline, avoiding a major move and instead opting for additional additions to the DH squad Darin Ruf and middle reliever Mychal Givens. The next three months can be spent wondering if that was enough.
Ruf and Givens join Daniel Vogelbach and Tyler Naquin as the sum of the Mets additions. General manager Billy Eppler spoke of the team increasing its rush differential while maintaining its cumulative World Series ratings over the long haul as the Mets were determined to hold on to their prospects. It had become clear over the past week that New York wouldn’t give up on anyone in its first set of prospects, a six-man squad. Eppler said they ended up hanging on to their top 19 prospects.
“We were able to strengthen the club today and over the past two weeks,” he said. “I feel good about the way things have gone.”
This conservative approach, however, failed to recognize and reward the historic uniqueness of the Mets’ position. Without baseball’s best pitcher, the Mets weathered the first four months of the season to arrive in their final third in pristine form. Their 65-37 record in 102 games is the second-best in franchise history, behind only the 1986 machine. The last time a National League East team was better in 102 games, that was 2003, and the only National League franchise to improve on that mark in the past decade is the Dodgers.
With the exception of the absence of Jacob deGrom, they enjoyed remarkably good health, with James McCann the only regular position player who missed more than a handful of games on the IL. That’s not normal in Queens.
New York has thus positioned itself in 2022 to not only break its six-season drought without postseason baseball or a seven-year season without a division title. The Mets are legitimate championship contenders, as capable as any baseball team of ending October lifting a trophy.
Dedicated readers here, and perhaps even some casual ones, will know that this hasn’t happened in the past 35 Falls.
From the day he was named general manager in November, Eppler has spoken of maximizing the club’s collective chances for the World Series over a period of years. He reiterated that stance on Tuesday, talking about the Mets’ predictions and predictive models and “(trying) to do everything in service of that kind of sustainability.”
He did the math on Tuesday, saying sustainability is compromised when you subtract one to 1.5 percent from your World Series odds every year for the next few years to add one percent this year. Everything the Mets considered but didn’t do on Tuesday, he said, “just took too much away from that future.”
But the math has to fit the context: you’ll pay more for an umbrella if it’s raining right now. There are ways to recover the future value traded, especially when you have access to Steve Cohen’s wallet. And there’s no guarantee, and perhaps no likelihood, that the position the Mets have dragged themselves to this season can be established next year and beyond.
Health is a permanent question mark; you capitalize when it bothers you like that. And while brighter than usual, the Mets’ future is hazy. The vast majority of their pitching team, as well as their first batter, are expected to hit in free agency. Even with all those top prospects, they lack ready-made replacements for what they could lose this winter.
In a sport of uncertainty, the Mets could at least claim this about their giveaway: Max Scherzer started Monday night and deGrom started Tuesday night. This may never happen in a different season, and so it seems appropriate to max out the 2022 World Series specific odds.
To claim that the Mets are better than they were a fortnight ago, as Eppler did, is accurate but easy. Every team in the running is better than it was two weeks ago, and it’s the differences in magnitude that matter. Atlanta is better. Philadelphia is better. Milwaukee is better. San Diego is much better. These are all potential playoff opponents for the Mets.
According to multiple industry sources, the Mets appeared spooked by what happened last summer when they traded Pete Crow-Armstrong to see him blossom into one of the game’s top prospects. To allow that experience to influence their decisions this week would be to misunderstand competitive environments. On deadline day last season, the Mets had eight games above .500 with a plus-three point differential. They had just learned that they were losing deGrom for a long time. This year they have 28 more games with a plus-102 differential, recovering from Grom.
It was the year to be aggressive. This was the year to trade one of your top 19 prospects for a left-handed reliever, to trade even one of the best for an everyday player. It was the year to steal a bit of future World Series odds to maximize them now.
If not now when?
(Photo by Mychal Givens in April: Charles LeClaire/USA Today)