Kelenic's visit puts trade back in spotlight

May 12th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo's Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

You’re going to hear a lot this weekend about Jarred Kelenic.

The Mariners, with Kelenic entrenched in their everyday lineup, are set to play in Queens for the first time since 2008. Coincidentally, the series will take place barely a week after the Mets’ release of Robinson Canó. Those are two players forever linked in history, as major parts of the seven-player trade that changed the course of both franchises in December 2018.

At the time, the deal seemed questionable from the Mets’ perspective. By the middle of 2019, it seemed destined to become one of the most regrettable trades in franchise history.

Now? The truth might be somewhere in between. Although the Mets will receive nothing in return for paying the vast majority of Canó’s $48 million salary over this season and next, they have profited plenty from the presence of closer Edwin Díaz, another key part of the deal who owns a 2.75 ERA since 2020. Kelenic, meanwhile, has gone from being a can’t-miss prospect to a maybe-he-might-miss prospect. Over his first 123 Major League games, Kelenic has hit .173/.256/.338 with a 30 percent strikeout rate.

One longtime MLB talent evaluator, who scouted Kelenic as an amateur, noted that he always had small concerns about the player -- mostly regarding the outfielder’s quality of competition as a high school player in Wisconsin. The talent evaluator also pointed to the fact that Kelenic was mostly physically developed by the time he entered the Draft. Scouts considered Kelenic projectable because he had already grown into much of his adult speed and strength by his 18th birthday.

Of course, there’s still plenty of time for Kelenic to become a star. Another notable aspect of the deal is that the second prospect the Mariners received, Justin Dunn, hasn’t pitched in 11 months due to right shoulder issues. While the Mets certainly could have used Dunn in 2020, he wouldn’t be providing any value for them now. None of the other pieces the Mets dealt away -- Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Gerson Bautista -- gave the Mariners significant value, either. And remember also that the Mets considered including Jeff McNeil in some iterations of the trade. They ultimately kept McNeil, who has been one of their best all-around players this season.

In sum, Canó gave the Mets 1.2 Wins Above Replacement before his release this month. Díaz has provided 2.4 WAR as a Met, while Kelenic, Dunn, Bruce, Swarzak and Bautista have combined to give the Mariners -0.2 WAR. (Seattle did include Dunn in the trade that netted it Eugenio Suárez and Jesse Winker, two strong hitters in their primes.)

This is not, by any means, a celebration of Brodie Van Wagenen’s trade; it’s unlikely ever to be considered a good deal for the Mets, and it still has a chance to be a massive failure if Kelenic fulfills his potential as a superstar. The point is more that the deal might not wind up as badly as many folks -- myself included -- once feared. Forget Kelenic. If Díaz plays a significant role in a deep playoff run this season, Mets fans will surely remember the trade with at least some level of warmth.