Entering Spring Training, it seemed as if there was no chance the Mets would consider selling assets before the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline. Even in recent noncontending seasons, the Mets have tended to be buyers. Tack on the fact that Steve Cohen built the most expensive roster in Major League history with the intention of winning immediately, and the idea of a selloff appeared farfetched.
But as a worst-case scenario continues to unfold from a competitive standpoint, that idea has increasingly come en vogue. Already, the Mets have shipped infielder Eduardo Escobar to the Angels for prospects. And while team officials insist that doesn’t represent the beginning of a wider sale, it’s worth considering how one might look.
Here are three strategies the Mets could pursue as the Deadline approaches:
1) Stand (mostly) pat
This is the least exciting strategy from a rumors-and-rumblings standpoint, but it may be the team’s most prudent tactic. Consider that entering Tuesday’s play, despite everything -- despite their fourth-place standing, their season-worst position 16 games behind the Braves, and the general malaise of their recent play -- the Mets still held a 12.5% chance to make the playoffs. Cohen didn’t sink more than $375 million into this year’s roster just to give up in the face of such odds.
Likewise, selling off a few pending free agents to save, say, $20-30 million wouldn’t do much for Cohen’s bottom line. It’s not as if the Mets are going to shed enough salary to slip back under Major League Baseball’s Competitive Balance Tax threshold.
So why not continue to kindle hopes of a playoff berth by keeping the roster mostly intact? New York would still be free to buy under the right circumstances (i.e. players under team control beyond this season), without sacrificing its future or doing anything to crater its odds of a 2023 comeback.
As Max Scherzer put it after his last start: “We’re a good team. Nothing’s changed.” A quiet Deadline strategy would give the Mets a chance to prove it.
2) Light selloff
Despite the arguments raised above, merits exist to the Mets shopping their pending free agents. This strategy wouldn’t be about saving money. It would be about furthering general manager Billy Eppler’s charge of infusing the farm system with as much talent as possible.
Consider: In exchange for Escobar, who had become a part-time player for them, New York received a pair of pitchers who immediately turned into their 11th- and 18th-ranked prospects. What might it fetch for closer David Robertson, one of the best relievers potentially available on the market? Or for Adam Ottavino, whose contract includes a $6.75 million 2024 player option? For Brooks Raley, who throws left-handed and thus holds value? Or for Tommy Pham, who has been one of the team’s most consistent all-around players this month? Even outfielder Mark Canha might get the Mets something.
It's possible none of those players return next season. Selling some (or all) of them would likely net the team a smattering of mid-level prospects -- not the type capable of resetting an organization’s long-term fortunes, but enough to improve the system’s reputation.
The cost? Essentially giving up on this season. Some might consider that worth the gamble.
3) Heavy renovation
A full-scale teardown of this roster is effectively impossible, since Francisco Lindor has an untradeable contract, Brandon Nimmo’s deal is large and includes a no-trade clause, Scherzer and Justin Verlander aren’t pitching anywhere near the value of their contracts, Edwin Díaz is hurt and Starling Marte’s production has taken a dip. Those six players are making $180 million combined, or a little less than half of New York's total payroll. Moving any of them would be difficult.
But it wouldn’t be impossible. Start with Scherzer -- no stranger to Deadline deals. Regarding Scherzer’s no-trade clause, he’s 38 and looking to win another title. Several industry sources have suggested he would waive it for the right situation. Regarding the size of Scherzer’s contract, the Mets could use Cohen’s riches to pay it down in hopes of landing a premium prospect in return.
For a pitcher boasting championship pedigree, an eight-game unbeaten streak and a 3.19 ERA over that run, it’s not an outlandish thought.
Then there’s the nuclear option: trading Pete Alonso, who can be a free agent after next season (and who seems likelier to test the open market with each passing day). An Alonso deal may seem unrealistic, given its unpopularity with fans and the extent to which it would affect the Mets’ 2024 playoff chances. But outside of the roster’s youngest players, Alonso is quite clearly the most valuable trade chip in Flushing. If the team considered trading him, the return would be immense.