Why Mets aren't pivoting focus to Deadline strategy

May 24th, 2024

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.

NEW YORK -- Through 49 games last season, the Mets were 25-24, a second-place team boasting a talented roster and seemingly all the time in the world to boost its middling record. But the Mets began losing with regularity in June and fell 10 games under .500 by the end of that month. Despite playing better in July, the damage was done. Then-general manager Billy Eppler orchestrated a selloff of anyone on an expiring contract, and the Mets finished fourth in the division.

This year, after losing seven of eight on their most recent road trip, the Mets are 21-28 -- their worst record through 49 games in more than a decade. Once again, they feature a talented roster and seemingly all the time in the world to improve their record. But at seven games under .500, whispers of a potential selloff are already becoming audible.

From that vantage, the Mets may not have the rest of the season to recover from their poor start. They may only have five or six weeks.

“Find some magic, or people are going to get moved,” was how veteran reliever put it this week in Cleveland. “That’s just reality.”

To be clear, the Mets aren’t whiling away their Memorial Day Weekend thinking about what could happen in July. When asked about potential Trade Deadline strategies last week, president of baseball operations David Stearns replied: “We’re not anywhere close to even having discussions like that. … That’s something that we’ve got months to figure out, and it’s not anywhere close to my thought process at this point.”

Even so, many of these Mets have not only seen what can happen, but how quickly it can take place. Following a loss in Philadelphia last week, veterans , Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte spent a long time discussing the idea of urgency early in a season. Last year, those veterans believed their collective talent would allow them to rise to the top of the National League over time. Then the Trade Deadline hit and the ground beneath them became unstable.

None of them want that to occur again -- though Lindor doesn’t necessarily fear the specter of it. Asked Wednesday about the idea that something similar could unfold this year, Lindor cut off the question and said: “New front office.”

“It’s different,” Lindor added. “Stearns reads the room. He reads what he has in front of him, and he makes decisions based on the information that he gathers. … We still have the opportunity to finish May over .500. If we go to June at .500, it changes. But we’ve just got to start winning every inning.”

With six teams from each league making the playoffs these days, .500 teams typically enter September in contention. What the Mets must avoid is staying well below that mark as the Deadline approaches.

If they do, Stearns could warm to the idea of trading players such as J.D. Martinez, Harrison Bader, Luis Severino, Jose Quintana, Ottavino and, yes, even Pete Alonso -- all of whom can be free agents after this season. Dealing them would hasten the Mets’ path back to long-term contention, at a likely cost of a 2024 playoff run.

To avoid that fate, the Mets must win. Simple, right? Just know that the team hasn’t been this far under .500, this early in a season since 2013. According to Fangraphs projections, the Mets entered Thursday’s off-day with a 14.6 percent chance to make the postseason, which is down significantly from Opening Day. Manager Carlos Mendoza acknowledged a sense of urgency following Wednesday’s loss.

Even if Mets decision-makers aren’t talking about them out loud just yet, the implications of continued losing seem obvious.

“Honestly, I haven’t even looked at our record,” Ottavino said. “I’m not thinking about the Trade Deadline or any of that. Every day, we show up trying to win. It feels like we get kind of heartbroken each day. But I don’t think we’re going to show up any different tomorrow.”