NEW YORK -- One year ago Tuesday, the Mets made their seven-player blockbuster trade with the Mariners official, acquiring Edwin Díaz as the centerpiece of a deal designed to spur them back into contention. It didn’t work out quite as they envisioned; Díaz blew seven saves, posted a 5.59 ERA and allowed as many home runs as the previous two years combined.
Is it possible the Mets could look to make that sort of deal again?
Flash forward a year, and the Mets are connected in rumors to Brewers reliever Josh Hader. Like Díaz last December, Hader has four years of team control remaining. Like Díaz, he would take an absolute haul to acquire -- The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who first reported Hader’s availability, pegged J.D. Davis or Jeff McNeil as potential pieces to go to Milwaukee. Such a deal would almost certainly require parting with other assets, too.
While deals of this magnitude are always tough to pull off, the question right now is why the Mets might be interested in the first place.
Why it makes sense
Hader is good. Really, really good. An All-Star each of the past two seasons, Hader owns a 2.52 ERA over that stretch while striking out a league-high 16.1 batters per nine innings. His career rate of 15.3 per nine is the highest in Major League history, and his postseason mark is nearly as high. Without Hader, the Brewers probably wouldn’t be coming off two straight playoff appearances.
Obviously, a pitcher like that would fit snugly into a Mets bullpen that ranked 25th in the Majors in ERA last season. The Mets enter 2020 without an obvious closer; they’re not willing to commit to Díaz, and they may need Seth Lugo to shift to the rotation. Acquiring Hader would not only give the Mets a ninth-inning stalwart, but also push Díaz to lower-leverage situations and ease pressure off the entire staff.
What’s more, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was once Hader’s agent. He was eager to acquire former clients last offseason, including Robinson Canó and Jed Lowrie. Hader would fit that mold.
Why it doesn’t
When the Mets acquired Díaz and Canó for prospect Jarred Kelenic and others last December, the general criticism -- even at the time, before Díaz began struggling -- was that the team was sacrificing prime talent for a relief pitcher and a 36-year-old hitter. Even the best relievers are notoriously fickle from year to year. The Mets bought high on Díaz and are still paying the price; to acquire him, they agreed to accept much of Canó’s salary, hamstringing their budget now and in the future.
Hader might not put quite so much strain on the Mets’ budget, but he would potentially cost them an everyday player, a prime prospect or both. It’s not outlandish to think he could also take a step back next season, becoming a little less dominant, a little less mortal. Van Wagenen can’t afford to have another signature offseason move be a bust, with other needs to address in the rotation and center field.
What are the alternatives?
While no reliever on the free-agent market can match Hader’s dominance, Blake Treinen, whom the A’s non-tendered on Monday, actually came close in 2018. A down year -- remember, relievers are fickle -- subsequently made him expendable, putting him in a position where he can help the Mets. Other free agents include Will Harris and Daniel Hudson. They would come cheaper, allowing the Mets to spend more time focusing on their other needs.