Could blockbuster trades make the Mets champions in 2018?

JT Realmuto and Christian Yelich

Forget for a moment that the Mets organization plans to field a .500 club while trying to inspire fans with upside and potential, much as they’ve done for most of the last seven years. Pretend instead that the Mets have a choice between the two options faced by teams who are actually trying to win:

  1. Look up at the Nationals, look down at the Mets roster, judge the gap too large to breach, and plan for the future.
  2. Maximize the Mets’ current assets and go all-in for 2018.

Maybe Option A is the smarter long-term move. Dangle Jacob deGrom for a boatload of prospects, tank for a few years to collect top draft picks, and aim for a championship when Amed Rosario is in his prime in 2023.

So, hey, Mets fans, how many of you are on board with that plan? After a decade of choke jobs, injuries, mediocrity, penury and embarrassment, punctuated by a few months of catching lightning in a bottle, are you on board to wait another several years for a contender with a decent shot to win it all?

Me neither.

So let’s talk about Option B. Before Sandy Alderson has polished his February speeches about how the market didn’t provide the proper opportunities and blah blah blah, let’s see if we can imagine a way to get from where the Mets are now to the promised land this October.

Spend, but spend wisely

It’s easy for fans to ask their team to spend more money for more wins. I’d rather not go so far in that direction, though, that we’re paying $100 million in 2020 to some combination of players who can’t take the field (Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez) or are below-average (Jay Bruce, Mike Moustakas).

I want the Wilpons to spend, but I also want them to get bang for every buck, so we fans can dream of contending every year without needing to spend like the Yankees and Dodgers (which simply isn’t going to happen). For that reason, I’m going to rule out many players who could really help the Mets in 2018, because I don’t think they’ll be remotely worth what they’d cost. To me, that’s the above players, plus Eric Hosmer, along with anyone who generates an actual bidding war among Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Wade Davis, Addison Reed, and Lorenzo Cain.

My guess is that the Mets’ biggest moves should be trades, leaving free agency to round out the roster with an R.A. Dickey here or a Jarrod Dyson there.

Step 1: Pay for Christian Yelich

The Marlins are looking for immediate payroll relief, and that means finding a taker for Martin Prado. They’re also looking to avoid the appearance of a complete sell-off, which means they need both hot prospects and MLB-ready talent. Whoever can fill all these needs will become the leading candidate for the Marlins’ most coveted remaining talents, Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto.

This is something the Mets can achieve for little more than short-term money. Here’s how:

Trade Dominic Smith, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Dunn, Travis d’Arnaud and cash to Miami for Prado, Yelich and Realmuto.

Dunn is a first-round draft pick with elite velocity. Smith is another first-round pick who’s received plenty of media hype, flashed great potential, and has the likable underdog backstory that fits perfectly on a rebuilding team. Cabrera can play wherever the Marlins need him in the infield, with the Mets sending cash to offset his salary. D’Arnaud will replace Realmuto behind he plate, bringing an enticing history of top-prospect status and power potential. It’s not a steal for Miami, but it’s credible, and gets them the payroll relief they want.

Where would this leave the Mets?

Realmuto’s poor blocking and framing skills make him far from perfect, but gaining 50+ points of OBP from the catcher spot is hard to overrate.

Yelich is either a mediocre center fielder or a gold glove corner guy. He’s durable and a good baserunner. He hasn’t yet put it all together at the plate with any consistency, but he’s flashed batting champion potential and it’s not impossible to dream of upside at age 26.

Prado suffered from hamstring problems early in 2017 and then had knee surgery in late July. Having just turned 34, he has to be considered a health risk. Before that, however, he was a player who would have fit perfectly on the Mets: a reliable, clutch, shift-beating contact hitter who rated as a stellar defender at third base.

Realmuto and Yelich will be paid much less than they’re worth through 2022, while Prado will be paid a bit more than he’s worth through 2019. The Mets’ payroll will jump in the short term, but they’ll actually be in an improved wins-per-dollar position going forward.

As for losing Smith and Dunn, I don’t expect to miss a first base-only prospect and a pitcher who’s never shown much command or control.

Step 2: Pay for Joey Votto

With Smith gone, the Mets could probably find a cheap and productive first base bat out there in free agency. A reunion with Lucas Duda shouldn’t break any banks. At the same time, thanks to the Marlins haul, this team might be one big piece away from a 90-win squad on paper, poised to lead the wild card race and pounce on any opportunity for the N.L. East crown. So now would be the perfect time to shell out for that MVP-caliber bat.

We all know that the Wilpons care about the financial bottom line. One look at Votto’s price tag will have them shaking their heads, “No way.” But then they’ll have this to consider:

Joey Votto has won an MVP award, and he almost won another one last year. His name’s been on the leaderboards every day for the last decade. Barring a big bounceback by Miguel Cabrera, Joey probably holds the title of “best hitter in the game”. With Albert Pujols, Cabrera, and many other recent stars falling apart in their early 30s, Votto is arguably getting better (career-low K rate in 2017). Basically, he’s the kind of player fans pay to see.

Beyond that, if Votto could put the Mets into the playoffs, and help them make a deep run, that would equate to an absolute financial bonanza. Elevating the Mets from a 79-win team to an 84-win team may not mean much in the revenue department, but jumping from an 86-win fringe contender to a 91-win elite team could make a world of difference.

A few years back, the Reds were trying to win with Votto, and Votto was expressing his faith and patience. But now the Reds have traded Todd Frazier, said goodbye to Zack Cozart, are shopping Billy Hamilton, and appear to be nearly an entire pitching staff away from contention. Votto is 34 years old and I imagine it’d be hard for him to turn down a chance to play with a contender. This is a perfect time for him to jump ship, and for the Reds to rid themselves of that enormous contract.

I don’t know if any other teams in baseball are looking to pay a guy $25M per year through age 39, so I doubt the Mets will have to beat any prospect packages. Just pay the whole contract and the Reds should be happy with some toolsy A-ball guys in exchange.

Unlike the Marlins deal, this one is a long-term financial gamble. I have exactly two ways to justify it:

  1. I don’t think Joey Votto will ever stop hitting. He will probably get injured more often as he ages, but his incredible eye is a tool that has kept many hitters productive very late into their careers. The man’s career OBP is .428. That’s not “good”, that’s once-in-a-generation special.
  2. $25M in 2023 isn’t what $25M was in 2015. In 2023, that might be #3 starter money.

How much would all this help?

FanGraphs currently forecasts the 2018 Mets to win 83 games. Smith, Cabrera, d’Arnaud, Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo account for 5.6 WAR in that appraisal. Their replacements — Votto, Prado, Realmuto and Yelich — project for 12.5. That would presumably make the Mets a 90-win team.

Subjectively, I think FanGraphs underestimates that 7-win difference. The FanGraphs projections are bullish on d’Arnaud’s health, Cabrera’s performance, and Nimmo’s ability to play center field. At the same time, they don’t expect Prado or Yelich to approach their 2015-2016 levels, and they expect Votto to begin to decline. Maybe that 7-win difference is a good guess, but a difference of 10 wins or more wouldn’t surprise me at all.

However you assess the players involved, these moves would dramatically increase the odds of the Mets playing in the N.L. Division Series. They would also dramatically increase my enthusiasm for the team, and I can’t imagine I’d be alone.

Now, if only I knew how much revenue an NLDS appearance was worth…

David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
  1. Rae January 9, 2018 at 12:49 am
    Prado plays a decent 3B, and can also play CF. Yelich is a very athletic, has speed and can cover ground in CF to get to balls. Having Yelich eliminates the need for keeping both Nimmo or Lagares so one of them will have to go, and I think the better fit for the Marlins would be Nimmo as he possesses more hitting ability and base stealing athleticism then Lagares does. Offer the Marlins Nimmo, Gsellman, Nido, Montero, Smith and either Dunn, Kay or Szapucki and the deal might get done. Having Prado eliminates the need for the Mets to sign a 3B man as Prado could remain at third, and Cabrera could move over to 2B. If the Mets can then sign Adrian Gonzalez to a 1 year contract which looks promising as the Braves are on the hook for paying his salary in 2018 these additions might help the Mets stave off their abominable 2017 season from reoccurring in 2018. By the way, Realmutto is an excellent defensive catcher who calls a very good game, and has a great arm and can throw runners out. Where did anyone get the idea he was a bad pitch framer, and was not a defensive force behind the plate? Adding Prado, Realmutto and Yelich while signing Gonzalez solves all of the Mets most pressing issues with the exception of the need to re-sign Addison Reed as the Mets definitely need another reliable arm in the bullpen. I also think that Sandy will bring up Kyle Regnault from AAA as the guy was lights out in Vegas, and we all know how hard it is for anyone to pitch successfully in Vegas. If Sandy can pull these moves off then the Mets might be back in the limelight in 2018.
    • argonbunnies January 9, 2018 at 1:11 am
      If Smith and Dunn aren’t enough young talent, then I do think that’s a nice group to round it out. I can’t imagine Montero making it as a starter, so I’m happy to deal him. I’d like to keep either Nimmo or Lagares, but if the Marlins really want both, so be it.

      I can’t speak to Realmuto’s game calling, but 44 wild pitches and 9 passed balls in 120 games is a lot (both 2nd in the NL), and he’s certainly looked bad back there against the Mets. His numbers throwing out runners are slightly above average, so that’d be a nice upgrade. As for his pitch framing, Baseball Prospectus rates him as just above average — better than I’d thought! (Though still a drop-off from
      d’Arnaud, who is well above average there.)

      As for Adrian Gonzalez, great call, I’d forgotten about him. We’d need a really good Plan B, though, in case age and injuries won’t let him return to his former self.

      I do not like the idea of Asdrubal Cabrera and his minimal range at second base, but if the Mets only have so many upgrades in their budget, I guess that’d be survivable.

  2. edred January 9, 2018 at 1:23 pm
    I think getting Votto is an interesting idea but he has turned down suggestions of moving to a contender before and in trading for him I think the Reds would require more in top prospects than than David Berg is suggesting.

    The Marlins trade is interesting as I have also felt taking Prado would be the key to getting Yelich at a doable price. I am OK with the proposed trade with the Marlins though I think they will ask for a bit more such as a starting pitcher (Wheeler, not Matz) or either Lagares or Nimmo as RAE and ARGBUNNIES suggested since the Mets would be getting Miami’s two premium trade chips along with Prado who will bring much needed leadership to the clubhouse for a total of two decent prospects, Cabrera who is a cheaper version of Prado, one of the worst defensive cathers in the NL and either the Mets worst starter or a #4 OFer.

    If the Miami trade did happen then I would consider Adrian Gonzalez one a one year deal which wa also suggested by RAE as a cost cutting move. I think Alderson was once again penny wise and pound foolish for not going after Mike Adams for first and Tom Koehler as a spot starter/long relief.

    All of these moves mentioned above would leave the Mets with an excellent OF controlled for a few years at reasonable dollars and an infield of mostly older but very serviceable veterans on short term deals. This collection of trade proposals and comments were among the best I’ve seen so far this off season. Well done people.

    • argonbunnies January 9, 2018 at 11:49 pm
      I’m not sure how to evaluate the talent requirements in salary-dump deals. The Marlins required basically nothing from the Yankees for Stanton — they just wanted to dump the contract. When the Tigers wanted to move Prince Fielder, they did get back Ian Kinsler, but they had to pay a huge chunk of Fielder’s salary (on top of paying Kinsler’s own substantial salary). Matt Kemp has been passed around in the last few years as teams share the burden of his contract. Is it impossible to think the Reds would be thrilled just to see Votto’s entire salary depart?

      I don’t know the Reds’ thinking, and I don’t know Votto’s thinking, but many players are swayed by the feeling of being wanted. If I were Alderson, I’d bust out all the stops to make Votto feel very wanted in Queens.

      As for giving the Marlins one of our failed starters, sure, throw them Wheeler. I’d much rather turn Zack into a multi-inning reliever, but I wouldn’t let that stand between me and Yelich-Relamuto.

  3. DaveSchneck January 13, 2018 at 5:18 pm
    Votto is a tremendous player, likely underrated, but the back end of his deal is just not doable, especially in small market given Wilponville, given those figures at his advanced age.

    I am not as down on the Met catching as everyone else. As a tandem, TDA and Plawecki put up decent offensive numbers and are likely on the upswing. Splitting time will help both. Neither will ever be confused with a Molina, but Sherlock has helped TDA and both guys are good enough if they hit. I would not deplete prospects for Realmuto.

    If the consensus is that Dom Smith needs more seasoning, and more demonstration of commitment to stay in shape, I like the idea of a Duda reunion, so long as he is a platoon player with Flores. Those combined platoon splits are good power and decent defense, at a modest cost.

    I prefer to focus remaining monies on a 2B that can provide plus defense and some OBP, and one more quality arm in the pen.

    Nothing too sexy, but this is the model that made the World Series not long ago, when the pitching was healthy. And, if the pitching isn’t healthy, not Votto, Yelich, Realmuto, or all three will get them back to the fall classic.

    • argonbunnies January 14, 2018 at 2:57 am
      We have Syndergaard and deGrom, and if we want to win with a nothing-too-sexy lineup, we need to find replacements for 2015 Harvey and 2015 Matz. Those replacements are most definitely not 2018 Harvey and 2018 Matz. At this point, if the grab bag of Mets pitchers not named Syndergaard and deGrom can combine to contribute something close to 2015 Colon, we should be satisfied.

      Maybe save that Duda/2B/reliever money for Lance Lynn? Or save the prospects for a run at Gerrit Cole? I honestly don’t know where the Mets’ #3 starter is coming from.

      I think a lineup of Conforto-Realmuto-Votto-Yelich-Cespedes-Bruce-Cabrera-Roasrio would make up for a shallow pitching staff and be totally worth overpaying Votto toward the end of his deal.