Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 2, 2018

A Bold Move, Or Brodie’s Big Mistake?

Time, as someone no doubt once said, will tell. Kidding aside, that is the only honest assessment that can be offered up in the immediate wake of the big trade between the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets, hinted at for days and finally confirmed this weekend by the usual unnamed sources “familiar with the deal but not authorized to speak publicly.” Seattle, having committed to a full tear-down of its existing roster after having missed the playoffs for the seventeenth straight year, is sending second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz to Queens in exchange for outfielder Jay Bruce, relief pitchers Anthony Swarzak and rookie Gerson Bautista, and the Mets third and fourth ranked prospects, Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn.

The truth is that every swap of a high-salaried veteran for minor league prospects between one team looking to build for the future and another hoping to win now can only be fairly judged after some time has passed. That’s because minor league prospects are by definition a year or two or five away from proving their worth, or lack of same. But as is always the case with the first big move that fuels the Great Game’s hot stove league, news of this trade had fans clamoring for instant analysis and pundits eager to deliver.

Necessarily the focus has been on the deal’s impact on New York. Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto had already made clear his intent to a multi-year rebuild when he dealt starter James Paxton to the Yankees for three prospects in mid-November. He may well try to flip Bruce and Swarzak, the two veterans Seattle is receiving from New York, later this offseason. How the Mariners’ farm system develops, and how Dipoto spends the millions he’s saving by shipping the bulk of Cano’s salary east will determine, not next season but in 2020, 2021, and beyond, whether this weekend’s deal is a winner for the Mariners. For the sake of Seattle’s fans, one must hope for the best. At the All-Star break in July, the Mariners were nineteen games over .500, leading the American League Wild Card race and chasing the Houston Astros in the AL West. But Seattle sagged to a sub-.500 record from there, extending the longest postseason drought in all four major North American team sports.

But at Citi Field the focus is clearly not on some future season down the road, but on the campaign that begins with the call for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training just two and one-half months from now. Since going to the World Series in 2015 the Mets have finished second, fourth and fourth in the increasingly competitive NL East. Over the past two seasons combined New York lost thirty more games than it won. With owner Fred Wilpon spending like he was in charge of the small market Kansas City Royals rather than a team playing in the biggest market of all, this offseason began with rumors that the Mets might dangle right-hander Noah Syndergaard as trade bait.

Then New York made the decidedly unconventional move of hiring Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager. Van Wagenen came to the job not after moving his way up through the front office ranks, but after a career as an agent, including representing Cano and several Mets players. It was a bold if risky move, and Van Wagenen now seems intent on proving himself to be a bold risktaker as a GM. At his introductory press conference, he promised the Mets would aim to win in 2019, and his first major deal is in pursuit of that goal.

The clear upside for New York appears to be Diaz. The right-hander won’t turn twenty-five until shortly before Opening Day next spring, and he’s fresh off emerging as a dominant closer in 2018. Diaz recorded 57 saves for the Mariners while posting a stingy 1.97 ERA and an equally impressive Fielding Independent Pitching stat of 1.61. About the only uncertainty with Diaz is that when he was drafted by Seattle in 2012 his signing bonus plummeted after a physical revealed the presence of bone spurs on his right elbow. To date Diaz has not been bothered by the joint problem, but the knowledge that it exists may cause some Mets fans to hold their breath every time he takes the mound.

If the Mets have gained an elite closer in Diaz, exactly what they have in Cano is less clear. On the one hand he’s an eight-time All-Star with a lifetime batting average over .300. Last year he hit .303, just one point below his career number, and posted an OPS of .845.

But he did that while appearing in just eighty games, thanks to a half-season suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Cano is also thirty-six years old, and still has five years remaining on the $240 million, ten-year contract that Van Wagenen negotiated for him when Cano left the Bronx for Seattle after the 2013 season. Van Wagenen’s gamble is that his former client will continue to produce close to his career numbers for another couple of years, before the inevitable decline sets in. But in a sport in which most front offices have grown leery of players in their mid-thirties, Cano is already defying the calendar, and it’s impossible to know whether his solid 2018 stats were helped by playing only half a season, albeit involuntarily.

Accounting for the portion of his salary that Seattle is sending to the Mets, and the pay of the other players involved in the trade, the Cano acquisition will cost New York $63 million over the balance of his contract. If that buys a couple of NL East titles and at least one deep postseason run, fans will likely think it money well spent. But if the career arc of the newest Met follows that of most other thirty-six-year old major leaguers, well, one can already hear the boos pouring down from the upper reaches of the big ballpark in Queens and the rabid second-guessing of the team’s new GM on sports talk radio. There is no shortage of instant analysis on both sides.  Van Wagenen has struck gold.  Van Wagenen has been taken to the cleaners by a veteran GM.  The only certainty, of course, is that time will tell.

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Responses

  1. I love these stories about ‘gratification now’ vs. ‘long-term commitment’; greed vs. thrift.

    Like you said, Time will tell, and I can’t wait to hear the results.
    Ω

    • I can’t help but think that because of his lack of front office experience, the new Mets GM is determined to make as big a splash as he can. Perhaps it all works out and fans in Queens wind up celebrating. Or perhaps it turns out to be one big belly flop.

      Thanks Allan,
      M-

      • Drama awaits us either way.
        Ω


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