PHILADELPHIA – When Brodie Van Wagenen uttered “Come get us” to his NL East rivals this offseason, the first-year general manager believed he had added two premium players ready to back up those words in Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano.
Diaz would be the shutdown, dominant closer. Games would be over if the Mets had a lead. Cano would also continue his Hall-of-Fame trajectory.
“Robinson Cano is one of the best second basemen in the history of the game. He immediately will impact the middle of our lineup and increase the run production in a meaningful and significant way,” Van Wagenen said at Citi Field on Dec. 4. “Edwin is the best closer in the game today. He will be the anchor of our bullpen and electrify our fan base. Everyone should know that these two players are here to help us accomplish our goals of winning and now in the future.”
Flashing forward nearly seven months, and the Mets are no longer telling folks to “come get us” unless you’re talking about the Marlins.
Oh, these Mets have been gotten, and the two players that Van Wagenen targeted are part of the reason for the team’s 37-45 record.
Cano is hitting .222 with a .628 OPS, and Diaz is conjuring memories of Armando Benitez.
The closer left the fan base with another gut punch Thursday by wasting a two-run lead in the ninth against the Phillies, surrendering five runs in the 6-3 walk-off loss. Diaz allowed two homers, including Jean Segura’s walk-off three-run shot to left.
Diaz now owns a 4.94 ERA and has blown four saves.
“That’s just not why you go make the deal,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said of the duo’s struggles. “I have faith in those guys …They got to bounce back.”
The Mets ventured down a new path this offseason when they hired Van Wagenen, and his first major move proved to be a franchise-altering one.
The team acquired Cano and Diaz from Seattle in exchange for top prospect Jarred Kelenic, outfielder Jay Bruce, reliever Anthony Swarzak, and two other prospects.
The Mets were taking a risk in trading Kelenic, now ranked the 24th-best prospect by MLB.com, at a time when teams are hoarding prospects.
Kelenic has the chance to be an All-Star with talent evaluators raving about the outfielder, selected sixth in the 2018 Draft.
Diaz produced a fantastic 2018 season, leading MLB in saves, but relievers are volatile and many questioned if his team was a closer away from a title.
Cano was expected to hit at least for another year or two, but investing $100 million in Cano over the next five years seemed iffy.
It also didn’t help that the Mets did not fully commit to building a strong roster this year with the starting pitching and bullpen depth not being properly addressed. The Mets certainly improved, but they did not go all out as they claimed they would.
Now, 82 games into the season, Van Wagenen’s blockbuster trade has been a bust, and the deal isn’t expected to improve as Cano ages.
Diaz is not the same dominant force. He’s blown four of his last eight save chances, his statistics are not as good, and he can record no more than four outs.
It also seems that he has a knack for blowing the biggest games, like Thursday’s heart-breaking loss.
After mustering one hit in the first eight innings, the Mets rallied to take a 3-1 lead in the ninth against Phillies closer Hector Neris. Todd Frazier’s two-run blast gave the Mets the lead after Aaron Nola dominated them for seven innings.
Diaz entered, and immediately walked Cesar Hernandez on a 3-2 slider that Callaway – who rarely criticizes players – questioned.
Maikel Franco then homered to tie the game.
Four batters later, Segura ended the game with a shot to left.
“I was trying to make the best pitches that I could, but it seemed like they were prepared for every pitch,” Diaz said through an interpreter. “Just a bad day for me, and once the home runs came around we lost the game.”
Diaz has now allowed as many runs this year as he did all of last season, despite pitching 42.1 fewer innings. He owns a 6.98 ERA since the start of May.
“There’s not that much of a difference (from last year),” Diaz said. “I’ve had a lot of good saves this year. My ERA is kind of high, and that’s something I want to keep working on so I can be able to get it lower so we can win some games.”
Cano has been worse than Diaz, and the issue is the first few years of the deal were supposed to be when he produced.
The infielder somehow has just four homers at a time when everyone is homering. Even the Mets starting pitchers have combined for five homers in 59 fewer at-bats.
Mickey Callaway has to justify why Cano is still hitting third, and Can has also lost a step defensively. He’s been questioned for not hustling on several occasions.
Thursday, Cano pinch hit and struck out against Juan Nicasio. The 36-year-old is missing pitches that he would normally crush.
Cano insists he’s just dealing with bad luck, but even if had balls dropping in, he would still be producing way below his career norms.
The infielder entered the day with a -0.9 WAR according to BaseballReference.com.
About the only thing Callaway can do with Cano is say that he sees encouraging signs even after he went 5 for 37 on the road trip. He spoke of Cano as if he were Juan Lagares or another played with limited offensive capabilities.
“Cano’s starting to come around with the bat it seems like the last couple of days,” Callaway said.
There is still time for Cano and Diaz to turn their season around, and Diaz can remain under contract through 2022, while Cano is here until 2023.
It seems like eons ago that the Mets were so giddy about this trade with even team COO Jeff Wilpon saying how he wanted Van Wagenen’s first move to be a big one.
“I did talk to Brodie, ‘OK, let’s make the first move that you do, because your first is always your first,’ and knowing that this was his first deal, I like that it’s a bigger deal than just a run-of-the-mill deal that wouldn’t have [reporters] out here today,” Wilpon said that December day.
That trade certainly brought out reporters, but it hasn’t resulted in wins.
And with Cano and Diaz underperforming, it will likely be another lost season.
“This is a game that we all felt we really needed to win,” Callaway said. “We put ourselves in a position to do that and we didn’t get it done.”