The most expensive team in baseball history had to sell at the trade deadline. Three disappointing months to begin the season led the New York Mets to pivot at the deadline, and become baseball's biggest sellers. They leveraged owner Steve Cohen billions and ate a lot of money -- more than $70 million, reportedly -- to get the best possible prospects in return. It was a rich man's fire sale.
"I do want to be clear that it's not a rebuild," GM Billy Eppler told reporters, including MLB.com, earlier this week. "It's not a fire sale. It's not a liquidation. This is just a repurposing of Steve's investment in the club, and kind of shifting that investment from the team into the organization."
The Mets started the sell-off by sending closer David Robertson to the NL East rival Miami Marlins last week. A few days later, they sent three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the Texas Rangers. They ate a reported $35 million to facilitate that trade and received a quality prospect in return (Luisangel Acuña, Ronald's younger brother). From there Mark Canha, Dominic Leone, Tommy Pham, and Justin Verlander were dealt as well.
Scherzer and Verlander had to waive no-trade clauses to be moved -- I'm sure it was easier for Verlander to do so once Scherzer punched his ticket out of town -- and Scherzer told The Athletic the team's direction played a role in his decision. He said he was told the Mets do not intend to truly compete until 2025, maybe even 2026. From the Athletic:
"I talked to Billy," Scherzer told The Athletic. "I was like, 'OK, are we reloading for 2024?' He goes, 'No, we're not. Basically our vision now is for 2025-2026, '25 at the earliest, more like '26. We're going to be making trades around that.'
"I was like, 'So the team is not going to be pursuing free agents this offseason or assemble a team that can compete for a World Series next year?' He said, 'No, we're not going to be signing the upper-echelon guys. We're going to be on the smaller deals within free agency. '24 is now looking to be more of a kind of transitory year.'"
Eppler didn't necessarily dispute that following the trade deadline -- "Going into 2024, we don't see ourselves as having the same odds as going into 2023, but we will field a competitive team in 2024," he told reporters, including Fox Sports -- though this can be a situation where both apply. The Mets are focusing on 2025 but won't throw in the towel on 2024 either. Why would they? Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo, Kodai Senga, and others are in their prime. That window won't be open forever.
With all due respect, the Mets did not trade anyone who will be difficult to replace. Canha, Pham, and Robertson are all due to hit free agency after the season. They were going to have to be replaced anyway. Scherzer has pitched more like a mid-rotation guy than an ace this season, and while Verlander has been very good the last few weeks, he will be 41 next Opening Day and he's had some injury issues. There is much more downside potential than upside there.
The farm system is much more robust -- the Mets added four players likely to make Baseball Prospectus' top 101 prospects list next year -- and prospects can help you two ways. You can either plug them into your roster or you can trade them. The Mets now have much more trade fodder to go get, say, Chicago White Sox ace Dylan Cease or San Diego Padres star Juan Soto. Cohen's wealth also means they can afford to sign Shohei Ohtani while still paying down Scherzer's and Verlander's salaries.
Eppler & Co. will have to replace Scherzer's and Verlander's innings and also plug a few other roster spots, like every team every offseason. The biggest question now is Alonso, who is scheduled to become a free agent after next season. The Mets were said to be listening to offers for their All-Star first baseman because hey, why not? It never hurts to listen. I'm guessing they would prefer to sign him long-term, however. Alonso's a great player who clearly loves being a Met. Players like that are worth keeping.
"Whatever their vision is, whatever their plan is, it really doesn't necessarily matter to me because I'm here right now and I want to be the best player I can be right now for as long as I'm here. It could be forever," Alonso told reporters, including Newsday, on Tuesday. "... I don't necessarily know what the future holds. But as long as I'm here, you're going to get the best from me every single day. You're going to get my best effort to win ballgames."
The Mets deserve credit for being honest with themselves ---- and doing something I'm sure they didn't want to do. Cohen didn't want to sell at the deadline. He wanted Scherzer and Verlander to lead the team back to the postseason. You have to be realistic though. The Mets were mediocre for too long this season and outright bad at times. Drastic action was required. Cohen footed the bill and allowed Eppler to put the team in better position for the future.
Next year's Mets will look a lot different than this year's Mets and that's a good thing, because this year's Mets underachieved. Cohen's plan was always to spend extravagantly to keep the team in contention while they built up the farm system behind the scenes. That's a big-market rebuild. It's what the Los Angeles Dodgers did in the mid-2010s. When things didn't go as planned, they had to change course. The farm system component has been accelerated, and they still have the resources to put a contender on the field next year.
"We don't want to punt. We want to have a product that we feel good about and people can feel good about. We don't want to endure long stretches of being bad," Eppler said earlier this week. "Free agency is not the market that we want to rely on to build a championship team. It's the market that we want to use to enhance the team that we have, but we would rather go to that market for opportunities than necessity. We're not there yet."