Mets Have Buyer Mentality, Could Focus On Bullpen Help (2024)

A month ago, the Mets looked like also-rans in the National League playoff picture. They followed up a 9-19 showing in the month of May with a pair of losses to begin June, but the Mets have since turned things around in dramatic fashion, going 16-6 over their past 22 games. Manager Carlos Mendoza’s squad is still a game under .500 and has minimal hope of catching the best-in-MLB Phillies (55-29), who lead the NL East by a margin of eight games over the Braves and 13.5 games ahead of New York. However, even at 40-41, the Mets are only two games out of the final spot for the final National League Wild Card spot.

Jon Heyman of the New York Post reports that as things stand right now, the Mets are approaching the July 30 deadline with an eye toward adding to the team. President of baseball operations David Stearns tells Heyman that the bullpen, specifically, is an “area of the team we’re going to continue to monitor.”

Mets relievers rank 14th in the majors with a 3.77 earned run average. Both their 3.73 FIP and 3.47 SIERA rank more favorably among MLB clubs, and the Mets’ bullpen leads all of baseball with a 26.8% strikeout rate on the season. They’re not without their flaws, however. The bullpen in Queens has a 10.5% walk rate that ranks as the fifth-worst in MLB. The Mets also just lost righty Drew Smith to probable Tommy John surgery, and they’ve had an uneven season from closer Edwin Diaz. The Mets’ $102MM closer posted a 5.40 ERA in 20 innings before landing on the injured list due to a shoulder impingement, returned to rattle off three straight scoreless innings (three strikeouts, no walks) — but then was hit with a 10-game ban following a failed foreign substance check in his most recent appearance.

For much of the season, the focus on the Mets has been about who they might have to peddle to contending clubs at the deadline. Pete Alonso’s name, in particular, has been a hotly debated topic, though Heyman writes that as of this time, the slugger “isn’t going anywhere.” So long as the Mets remain in arm’s reach of a postseason bid — particularly with considerable momentum on their side after their play in the past three weeks — it seems they’ll avoid straight sell-side transactions.

That said, both Heyman and SNY’s John Harper suggest there’s room for the Mets to walk both paths. New York’s pitching depth is improving with Kodai Senga on the mend. The Mets have several starters on short-term deals — Luis Severino and Jose Quintana most notably. The Post’s Mike Puma reported yesterday that the Mets could look to move some veteran starters, knowing that Senga is progressing toward a return while top prospect Christian Scott and young righty Jose Butto continue to impress in the upper minors.

Among their short-term veterans, Severino would presumably have the most value but is also the least likely to change hands. The longtime Yankee hurler has posted a 3.42 ERA in a team-high 97 1/3 innings with strong walk (8%) and ground-ball (50%) rates. Severino has a career-low marks in strikeout rate (18.5%) and swinging-strike rate (8.3%), but his revamped, sinker-heavy approach has nonetheless yielded impressive results. Moving him would register as a surprise, given that he’s presumably viewed as a leading candidate to make playoff starts, alongside a hopefully healthy Senga.

Lefty Sean Manaea, too, can become a free agent at season’s end. There are different sorts of hurdles when it comes to trading him. The veteran southpaw has turned in a 3.89 ERA in 76 1/3 innings with a strong 23.6% strikeout rate but also a career-worst 10.6% walk rate. More concerning for interested teams than his walk rate, though, would be the lefty’s contract. He inked a two-year, $28MM contract over the winter, but the second season of that deal is a $13.5MM player option.

Broadly speaking, teams are reluctant to trade for players who have player options and/or opt-out clauses on their contracts. Those clauses are pure downside for the acquiring team. If the player performs well or exceeds expectations post-trade, he’s all but assured taking the out clause and becoming a free agent. If said player incurs an injury or performs poorly, the acquiring team could be stuck with an additional year(s) of the player on a contract that outpaces his market value. Effectively, if the player performs well post-trade, he becomes a rental. If he plays poorly or gets hurt, it becomes an underwater multi-year contract.

Of the team’s veteran starters, Quintana might be the most straightforward option to change hands. The 35-year-old has had some struggles this season, posting a 4.57 ERA and proving uncharacteristically susceptible to home runs (1.42 HR/9). Quintana has a below-average 18.1% strikeout rate but a sharp 8.1% walk rate. He’s kept the ball on the ground at a strong 44.5% clip.

Quintana has also pitched much better of late. An eight-run drubbing at the hands of the Rays back on May 3 represents nearly 20% of the lefty’s total earned runs this season. He’s allowed three or fewer runs in 13 of his 16 starts this season and owns a tidy 3.70 ERA over his past eight trips to the hill. Quintana is earning $13MM this season, with about $6.36MM of that sum yet to be paid out as of this writing. For the Mets, there’s some extra incentive to shed some of that salary; they’re paying a 110% tax on it because of their current luxury tax status. Though Quintana himself is only owed that remaining $6.36MM, trading him would save the Mets just shy of $13.5MM when factor in luxury tax considerations.

It bears emphasizing that there’s no indication the Mets view shedding a veteran starter as a necessity or even a likelihood. Being open-minded to that sort of move is nothing new for Stearns, who made several trades of big league players during his time atop the Brewers’ front office — even when the Brewers were in the midst of a contending season. And, as with most teams currently on the Wild Card bubble, the current mentality is presumably subject to change. The Mets played themselves into this spot with a torrid late-June showing, but it stands to reason that if the pendulum swings in the other direction and they lose several games in a row to fall considerably further back in the standings as the trade deadline draws nearer, they’d consider operating more as a conventional seller.

Mets Have Buyer Mentality, Could Focus On Bullpen Help (2024)


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