If not now, when?
The IS Mets submitted an underdraft prior to the trade deadline, eschewing a major move and opting instead for incremental additions in the DH platoon. There is a reputation and medium relief Mychal gives. The next three months can be spent wondering if that is enough.
Ruf and Givens enter Daniel Vogelbach and Tyler Naquin as the Mets’ additions amount. General manager Billy Eppler talked about the team growing their run differential while maintaining their cumulative World Series contracts in the long term, as the Mets were steady in keeping up with their expectations. It was clear over the past week that New York would not give up on anyone in its top line of prospects, a group of six players. Eppler said they ended up hanging on to their top 19 prospects.
“We were able to strengthen the club today and over the last few weeks,” he said. “I feel good about how things turned out.”
That conservative approach, however, failed to recognize and reward the historical uniqueness of the Mets’ position. Without the best pitcher in baseball, the Mets crossed the first four months of the season to reach their final third in great form. Their 65-37 record through 102 games is the second best in franchise history, behind only the 1986 machine. The last time a National League East team went 102 games better was in 2003, and the only other National League franchise to better that mark in the past decade is the Dodgers.
With the exception of Jacob deGromand absent, they have experienced remarkably good health, with James McCann the only regular position player to miss more than a handful of games in the IL. This is not normal in Queens.
So, New York is positioned in 2022 not only to break its drought of six seasons without postseason baseball or one of seven years without a division title. The Mets are a legitimate Championship contender, as capable as any team in baseball of ending October by hoisting a trophy.
Dedicated readers here, and maybe even some casual ones, will know that hasn’t happened in the past 35 harvests.
From the day he was introduced as general manager in November, Eppler has talked about maximizing the Club’s World Series odds over a period of several years. He reiterated that position Tuesday, talking about the Mets’ forecasting and predictive models and “(trying to) do everything in service of that kind of sustainability.”
He did the math on Tuesday, saying that undercut sustainability when you subtract 1-1.5 percent from your World Series odds each year over the next is enough to add a percent this year. Everything the Mets thought but didn’t do Tuesday, he said, “took away too much of that future.”
But the math has to align with the context: You’ll pay more for an umbrella if it’s raining right now. There are ways to recover value traded in the future, especially when you have access to Steve Cohen’s wallet. And there is no guarantee, and perhaps no probability, that the position the Mets have dragged themselves to this season can be established next year and beyond.
Health is a perennial question mark; you capitalize when it breaks your way like this. And while it’s brighter than usual, the future of the Mets is unclear. The vast majority of their pitching staff, as well as their leadoff hitter, are set to make an impact in free agency. Even with all those top prospects, there are no ready-made replacements for them to lose this winter.
In a sport of uncertainty, the Mets could at least claim this about their spot: Max Scherzer started Monday night, and deGrom started Tuesday night. That might not happen in a different season, so it certainly feels appropriate to max out specific 2022 World Series options.
It is accurate but easy to claim that the Mets are better than they were two weeks ago, as Eppler did. Every team is competing better than they were two weeks ago, and it’s the differences in size that matter most. Atlanta the best. Philadelphia the best. Milwaukee the best. San Diego hell is much better. These are all potential postseason opponents for the Mets.
According to multiple industry sources, the Mets seemed spooked by what happened last summer, when they traded Pete Crow-Armstrong only to see him blossom into one of the game’s best prospects. . To allow that experience to influence their decisions this week would be to misunderstand the competitive contexts. On deadline day last season, the Mets were eight games over .500 with a plus-three run differential. They knew they were losing deGrom for a long time. This year, they are 28 games over with a plus-102 differential, getting deGrom back.
This was the year to be aggressive. This was the year you could trade one of the top 19 left-handed relief prospects, even one of the top tier for an everyday impact player. This was the year to steal a little from future World Series odds to maximize them now.
If not now, when?
(Photo of Mychal Givens in April: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)