Robertson deal starts Mets' sell-off amid 'disappointing' season

July 28th, 2023

NEW YORK -- The most expensive Major League Baseball team ever assembled is disassembling.

The 2023 Mets, who ran their payroll to around $375 million but spent much of the season below .500, are breaking up the band. Late Thursday night, the club traded closer to the Marlins for two teenage prospects, signaling a wider sell-off that should take place over the coming days.

Given countless opportunities to avoid that fate, the Mets could not win consistently enough to persuade general manager Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen.

“We probably should have played better earlier if we wanted to be buyers instead of sellers,” outfielder Mark Canha said.

The trade of Robertson occurred during a one-hour, 37-minute rain delay that bisected the Mets’ 2-1 win over the Nationals in the series opener at Citi Field. During that time, Marlins general manager Kim Ng presented Eppler with her final offer of 18-year-old shortstop Marco Vargas and 19-year-old catcher Ronald Hernández, Miami’s 18th- and 21st-ranked prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. (Vargas immediately became New York's No. 6 prospect, with Hernández slotting in at No. 17 on the Mets' Top 30.) Eppler considered it too much value to pass up for Robertson, who can become a free agent in November.

“We were faced with where our club was at this time of the season,” Eppler said of the fourth-place Mets (48-54). “I’ve had a number of inquiries on our players, and we were listening. In this circumstance, the value of the players that we acquired kind of exceeded our expectations.”

From a wide lens, the deal represents an almost unfathomable fate for the Mets, who began this year with World Series aspirations following the richest offseason spending spree in MLB history. But the club struggled to turn those high salaries into an equally high win rate, falling under .500 on June 6 and never making it back to that mark.

As the Mets squandered chance after chance to run up the standings, Eppler and his team began considering a sell-off in advance of Tuesday's 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.

“It’s not where we want to be,” Eppler said. “It’s not what we want to be doing. We’re trying to balance the best interest of the team but also balance the best interest of the organization. Sometimes, those are more perpendicular than they are parallel.”

Trading Robertson, a 38-year-old closer on an expiring contract, was an obvious first move. With a 2.05 ERA in 40 appearances, Robertson had steadied the back of the bullpen after the Mets lost Edwin Díaz to season-ending right knee injury. Robertson is a proven playoff commodity, appearing in more postseason games than all but one active MLB pitcher. Last year, the right-hander helped lead the Phillies to the National League pennant following a similar midseason trade.

But that didn’t make Robertson’s departure from Flushing any less shocking. Like so many in the Mets’ clubhouse, he signed as a free agent “expecting to be on a team that was going to compete for the division.”

“This was the place to play,” Robertson continued. “I thought this was the spot to be and have a good chance of winning it all.”

Instead, he -- and likely others -- will attempt to do that elsewhere. In addition to Robertson, the Mets possess several tradable assets in relievers Brooks Raley and Adam Ottavino, outfielders Canha and Tommy Pham, and starting pitchers Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and José Quintana. It’s unlikely the team will deal all of them, especially considering how unwieldy the contracts of Verlander and Scherzer would be to move. But New York is highly unlikely to stop its deals at Robertson.

“If the economic equation points to us making a deal that’s best for the organization, then we’re going to have to really consider it,” Eppler said.

In a quiet postgame clubhouse, players reacted to the Robertson trade in varying ways. Canha and Brandon Nimmo bemoaned the inability of the team to play well enough to avoid this fate. Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso shrugged off the implications of the deal, saying they intend to continue competing for a playoff berth even without their closer.

But that task, which was already difficult, is about to become significantly more so. Selling off pieces may not be “where we thought we were going to be when we started the season,” as Nimmo put it. Yet it’s where the Mets are now, in spite of all the dollars spent and contracts signed and hopes and dreams and aspirations.

“It was disappointing, this season,” Robertson said before leaving Citi Field with his three children. “There’s a ton of talent in this clubhouse. We just weren’t able to put it together. When you can’t put it together in time, GMs and owners have to make decisions. I was one of those decisions.”