The Mets acquired players on back-to-back days this week — first baseman/DH Daniel Vogelbach, then catcher Michael Perez — both from the Pirates. They also have checked in on Juan Soto and at least thought about Shohei Ohtani, who both fit into a slightly different category.
The Mets know their chances to land Soto are slim, and Ohtani even slimmer. So it’s surely time to aim somewhere between what they got and what they dream about it. Fortunately, there is vast middle ground there.
Billy Eppler is one of those new GMs that works all the time (maybe not quite as much as his Padres counterpart A.J. Preller, who may sleep at the ballpark, but as much as anyone else). So I’m not telling him anything he doesn’t know. But let’s face it. The Mets need more help, though they did impressively break their three-game losing streak with an 8-5 win over the Padres at Citi Field.
The team that looked almost perfect early is starting to show some obvious cracks. The lineup that was batting nearly .300 with runners in scoring position has reverted to the franchise norm lately of coming up a lot smaller in big spots. The bullpen that already needed depth (not to mention a lefty) lost nice rookie Colin Holderman in the straight-up swap for Vogelbach.
It’s pretty clear what the two needs are: another middle of the order bat, and bullpen help. When a Mets higher-up was asked which is the priority, it was like asking which of his children he prefers. He simply couldn’t decide.
The answer quite obviously is both. The Mets aren’t going to win it all without a beefed-up lineup and bullpen, unless of course prayers are answered and Jacob deGrom finishes this season like he started the last one.
Manager Buck Showalter said the Mets have a deGrom plan and a schedule that they won’t mention for obvious reasons (yes, of course, it’s that they’ve had to push it back many, many times). And Showalter adds, “If something happens that makes us deviate from that plan, we will.”
Truer words were never said. They won’t further risk deGrom’s billion-dollar arm (by the estimate of some who remember when), not when there’s still hope of starting that dream playoff rotation with deGrom and Max Scherzer, a one-two punch if healthy to rival Koufax and Drysdale, and few others.
While this may feel like waiting for Godot, if deGrom can make it back intact, there’s likely nothing on the trade market they can do to rival that.
Soto, of course, has some chance to be dealt. Just not very likely to the Mets. It is very hard to imagine Washington wants to see the game’s best hitter in the other dugout in their division for the next two and a half years, and probably a lot longer than that since owner Steve Cohen is the one man in baseball that could probably lock up Soto, no questions asked.
Ohtani is a player Eppler knows well, having lured him to Anaheim (or Los Angeles if you prefer) over many other suitors who craved the two-way phenom, and who has only grown manyfold more valuable since establishing himself as one of the best hitters and one of the best pitchers in the game — not to mention perhaps the most amazing athlete and greatest draw the sport has ever seen. Current word, however, is that it is “very unlikely” the Angels would deal Ohtani now — no surprise since their M.O. has been to collect superstars, moreso than win games.
And now back to the reality portion of the column.
The pen was an issue from almost the start of things. They need a set-up man, and especially need a lefty. David Robertson, who Eppler knows from Yankees days, would make sense to set up.
As for the lefty, badly needed well before Joely Rodriguez had yet another rough outing Sunday, they are in luck. A lot of crummy-to-middling teams have viable lefties in the pen, and they should add at least one of Matt Moore, Andrew Chafin, Tanner Scott, Joe Mantiply, Gregory Soto and old friend Aaron Loup.
The hitter will be the harder one. While Vogelbach will help against right-handed pitching (a 153 OPS plus vs. right-handed pitchers with the Pirates), they need more pop in a lineup too dependent on MVP candidate Pete Alonso, who has to be tired from carrying the club (it was his three-run home run and four RBIs that saved the night Sunday.) The Mets need to consider Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Ian Happ, Andrew Benintendi, Trey Mancini and Willson Contreras for that role.
Francisco Alvarez has power you just don’t see. Scherzer said he reminded him of Vladimir Guerrero power when he was down in Double-A. But he is struggling since moving to Triple-A. So the Mets will need to bring in a more proven commodity.
As with the lefty relievers, they are in good shape in that there’s enough supply to meet the demand. Any of the half-dozen guys in the previous paragraph would suffice. But from here, the top choices would be Bell, Contreras and Happ. Sure, they aren’t Soto or Ohtani. But any of that trio would do nicely.