Is a blockbuster trade in the cards for Mets?

December 18th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Throughout the early offseason, Mets president Sandy Alderson has stressed his desire to fill out the roster mostly via free agency. The Mets, with a relatively weak farm system and a relatively large budget, are uniquely positioned to do so.

That does not mean, however, that the Mets plan to ignore the top players available on the trade market -- namely Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor. It simply means they will operate with an added layer of discretion when discussing such names internally.

“I think the focus is still on free agency,’’ Alderson said this week. “There are a lot of good players out there that don’t require prospects in return. On the other hand, there are some interesting players on the trade market, too. So I think what we have to do at this point is make sure we’re actively engaged in both areas and evaluating the opportunities that exist in both.”

Much of Alderson and new general manager Jared Porter’s charge this winter revolves not only around putting a competitive team on the field in 2021, but also creating a sustainable winner for years to come. Alderson has been adamant that the way to accomplish this is by building up the Mets’ farm system, as well as supplementing it with improved scouting, development and analytics systems.

While the Mets’ farm system has improved in recent years, it still ranked 20th in MLB Pipeline’s 2020 midseason review. Nearly every prominent prospect within, such as Ronny Mauricio, Francisco Alvarez and Matt Allan, remains years away from the Majors. So barren are the Mets’ upper levels that they have made signing veterans to Minor League deals a priority this winter, already inking more than a dozen players who can fill out the roster at Triple-A Syracuse.

The idea of further weakening that farm system in a deal for Lindor, who has only one year remaining on his contract, is not something the Mets embrace.

“We don’t want to give up prospects, and we’re going to be very careful about doing that,” Alderson said. “On the other hand, there may be something out there that causes us to say, ‘OK, with respect to this particular deal, this makes sense to us. And while we don’t want to give up prospects, maybe there’s a way we can do this.’ So I think we’re going to be actively engaged in both areas, while still focusing on the fact that free agency -- yes, [it] requires dollar commitment, but it doesn’t require giving up prospects.”

One such player who could cause the Mets to rethink their strategy is Arenado. Unlike Lindor, Arenado is under contract for six more seasons, albeit at a significant price: $199 million. The Mets are uniquely positioned to absorb such a salary given owner Steve Cohen’s deep pockets, and doing so could entice the Rockies to deal them Arenado at little to no prospect cost.

Such a deal would move the Mets within $30 million of the luxury tax threshold, however, potentially undermining their ability to fill other, more prominent needs in the rotation and outfield. Is third base, with J.D. Davis and Andrés Giménez atop the depth chart, enough of a concern for the Mets to consider such a drastic move?

“If you’re talking about defensively, our third-base situation is probably a little bit up in the air,” Alderson said. “Is it as glaring a need as like a third or fourth starter? I don’t think so. But look, we’re gonna look for targets of opportunity. And if there are ways to make our team better in areas where we’re not the weakest but could use an upgrade, then those are things that Jared and the organization will have to consider.”

Mets lose a pitching prospect
The Mets on Friday sent right-hander Ryder Ryan to Texas to complete their Aug. 31 trade for Todd Frazier. Ryan, who originally came to the team in a 2017 Trade Deadline deal for Jay Bruce, produced a 3.05 ERA mostly as a reliever in his final Minor League season with Double-A Binghamton in '19.

The Mets still owe the Rangers another player to be named later for Robinson Chirinos, whom they acquired in a separate Deadline deal.

Minor League signing
The Mets have signed left-handed pitcher Cam Opp, a West Point alumnus, to a Minor League deal. Opp, a United Kingdom native who has pitched for the British National Team, last appeared for Evansville of the independent Frontier League in 2019, posting a 2.70 ERA over 21 relief appearances.