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Anyone shocked by the trade that brought Marcus Stroman to the New York Mets Sunday evening, a couple of hours after they had completed a three-game sweep over the Pittsburgh Pirates, obviously was not playing close attention to the manager’s post-game news conference.
It was there that Mickey Callaway, having been asked whether Brodie Van Wagenen, the former player agent turned rookie GM, ever asks him if he thinks the Mets still have a chance to salvage their disappointing 2019 season, said this: “I think that Brodie understands that I know we can win now, and he knows we can win now. There’s a reality to every situation, and we both feel that we can win, and get on a run and get into this thing.’’
That was the telltale sign that rather than holding a fire sale, Van Wagenen might actually be intending to go on a shopping spree.
Between now and 4 p.m. Eastern Wednesday, when the trade deadline arrives, we will get a clearer idea of what the Mets think they are this season and what they plan to do about it.
But by trading two young, rather highly touted pitchers in Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson, for Stroman, the Mets are sending strong signals that they believe they can still play at least one game in October this season.
Whether they are deluding themselves remains to be seen, but it is obvious that the past six days have changed the outlook for some people in the Mets front office. Early last week, I had a conversation with the proverbial “highly-placed source’’ in the Mets front office who told me that they would now be sellers, that losing three of four to the Giants in San Francisco was a season-changer for them.
But now, having swept the Pirates, a last-place team in the NL Central with a 46-59 record, following a series win against the San Diego Padres, who are 49-56 and fourth in the NL West, the Mets see themselves as contenders once again.
“We always feel we can compete and win until we are eliminated,’’ the same highly-placed source texted me after I asked about the Stroman deal.
Clearly, the thinking in the Mets front office has done a 180 since last week.
The Mets liked Kay so much they drafted him twice -- in the 29th round of the 2013 draft out of Ward Melville High School on Long Island, and again, with a first-round compensatory pick in 2016 after he chose to attend the University of Connecticut. Kay pitched well through Double-A but struggled this year when promoted to Triple-A Syracuse. Still, he was the fourth-ranked prospect in their system and the word was he was expected to make it to Citi Field sometime next year.
Woods-Richardson, a second round pick in 2018, was just getting started. An 18-year-old with untapped and unrealized potential who was the sixth-rated prospect in their system. At this stage of his development, it is impossible to know if that is evidence of his talent, or the dearth of same in the Mets farm system.
In any event, a decision was made once again to sacrifice the future for the present.
In December, Van Wagenen sacrificed outfielder Jarred Kelenic, a first-round pick in 2018 and the top-rated prospect in their system, and pitcher Justin Dunn, a first-round pick in 2016, in order to bring Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to Flushing.
So far, that deal has not worked out. Only time will tell if the Stroman deal will.
But you certainly hope that there is a method behind Van Wagenen’s evident madness, that this isn’t just some cruel tease to a fan base that has been conditioned to perpetually expect the worst.
You hope it’s not a cynical ploy to keep the fans interested and the ballpark at least semi-full; the Mets had already announced they were slashing ticket prices up to 80 percent on many seats for the rest of the season in anticipation that with the playoffs out of the question, fans would stay away in droves.
Because honestly, the odds of the Mets climbing out of the hole they have dug themselves into are long, despite their manhandling of the Padres and Pirates.
Baseball is a numbers game, and numbers are unforgiving. They leave you no wiggle room.
Even with their current hot streak, the Mets remain in fourth place in the NL East, five games under .500, and 11½ games out of first place. The best they can hope for is a wild card berth, and while they are currently “only’’ six games out of the second slot, they still need to climb over four other teams to get there.
And if, for argument’s sake, it will take 85 wins to sneak into the final playoff spot, the Mets will have to win 35 of their last 57 games, a .614 win percentage, to reach that total. This is a team that has not been at .500 since May 28, when they were 27-27, and they are 23-28 since.
In order to salvage this season, the team will have to make as drastic a 180 as its front office apparently has.
It’s certainly not impossible, and stranger things have happened in baseball. The 1969 and 1973 Mets are classic examples of that.
But it’s going to take more than Marcus Stroman, as good as he is, to turn this Mets team into a consistent winner; their bullpen has been atrocious, and on Sunday, Tyler Bashlor and yes, Diaz, conspired to turn what should have been a 8-3 laugher into an 8-7 nail-biter.
Now, with the acquisition of Stroman, all bets are off.
Will the Mets still trade Zack Wheeler, who was all but showcased with a price tag around his neck Friday night? Will they try to re-stock the farm by moving Noah Syndergaard? Will they dump off Todd Frazier and Jason Vargas, both of whom are on expiring contracts? Might they try to cash in on Diaz before he loses even more of his value?
A week ago, I would have had what I thought were reasonable, well-informed responses to all of those questions.
Now, I have no idea what the Mets plan to do next, because I’m not sure they do, either.
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