Are there questions that come with the New York Mets pulling off a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Mariners for second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz? Of course. Cano is 36 and coming off an 80-game PED suspension, the Mets traded some highly ranked prospects such as Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, and they could’ve just signed bullpen arms on the free agent market instead of trading for one.
With that said, in terms of their baseball fit and potential impact, Cano and Diaz put the Mets back in the playoff hunt.
The last three seasons have been a wild ride for the Mets. They grinded their way through injuries to claim home-field advantage in the National League Wild Card game – though they lost to the San Francisco Giants, 3-0 — in 2016. The ensuing two seasons, they missed the playoffs by a wide margin. Were injuries a part of their struggles? Perhaps, but every team in Major League Baseball is forced to overcome adversity in the face of injuries throughout the regular season, and the Mets failed to make themselves a deeper team around the diamond — which is where their problems stem from.
The first franchise-altering decision the Mets made this offseason was hiring former agent Brodie Van Wagenen to be their new general manager. His first trade is bold, to put it bluntly. On one hand, Cano is under contract for the next five seasons, and the Mets are paying him roughly $20 million a year. Meanwhile, the production Cano and Diaz will provide the Mets with shouldn’t be taken for granted.It's a bold move, but acquiring @RobinsonCano and @EdiDiaz44 puts the @Mets back in the postseason picture.Click To Tweet
Cano is one of, if not the best middle infielder of his generation and still an elite second baseman. In the field, he’s as smooth as they come, has a great arm, and has a knack for fielding any groundball within his vicinity. From the get-go, Cano could hit in the three or cleanup hole in manager Mickey Callaway‘s lineup. While he missed half of the regular season, the second baseman hit .303 in 2018 and, in general, is a contact machine. Before 2018, Cano had played 150-plus games in every season dating back to 2007. A career .304 hitter, Cano gives the Mets a steady source of high-caliber offense that they’ve been in dire need of.
Sure, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, and Jeff McNeil have seen their fair share of encouraging moments at the plate, but none of them are middle-of-the-order forces. Plus, Yoenis Cespedes has struggled to stay healthy and will likely miss the beginning of the 2019 regular season with heel injuries. Cano’s bat will surely help a Mets lineup that was 23rd in MLB in runs (676), 29th in hits (1,282), 26th in total bases (2,125), 21st in home runs (170), 29th in batting average (.234), 21st in on-base percentage (.312), 26th in slugging (.389), and 24th in OPS (.701) in 2018.
In Diaz, the Mets are getting an elite closer on the rise. Diaz, 24, was an All-Star Game participant in 2018 and one of the best relievers in the sport. Finishing the year with a 1.96 ERA and 0.79 WHIP while totaling 124 strikeouts and executing 57-61 saves, he was lights-out in the ninth inning. A shutdown closer can make an underwhelming bullpen respectable and a respectable bullpen elite; Diaz makes the Mets bullpen respectable.
The Mets have the chance to be in every game they play given the presence of their elite starting rotation; it’s a matter of their bats resembling a respectable offensive attack. Jacob deGrom won the National League Cy Young Award in 2018 after recording a remarkable 1.70 ERA and surrendering three, or fewer, runs in 25 consecutive starts; Noah Syndergaard, when healthy, has proven to be a dominant, top-of-the-rotation right-hander; Zack Wheeler came into his own in the second half of 2018; with the exclusion of back-to-back horrific late-July, early-August outings, Steven Matz was a steady force on the rubber every fifth day for the Mets last season.
All but likely, Jason Vargas, Seth Lugo, or Robert Gsellman will claim the fifth spot in the Mets starting rotation. And for the two who don’t crack the rotation, they can be used as long relievers, or setup men, in the pen — which is even more reason for the Mets to be optimistic about their pitching staff for 2019.
Now, the Mets’ competition in the National League East is going to be quite the hurdle to overcome. The Atlanta Braves young core was crowned division champions last season after winning 90 games, and they should only improve with age; the Washington Nationals have signed left-hander Patrick Corbin and traded for All-Star catcher Yan Gomes; the Philadelphia Phillies have a lot of money to spend on top-tier players and a stout rotation duo in Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta; at some point, the Miami Marlins will begin to resemble a more competitive ballclub. But the Mets are certainly in the mix to win the NL East, or, at the very least, compete for a Wild Card seeding based on talent alone.
Wagenen has gone into his first offseason with the Mets aggressive, looking to make big moves; the Mets are embracing a win-now mentality when it comes to their potential pursuit of high-profile free agents and significant trades. There is still work to be done with this roster, but, for the time being, Cano and Diaz give the Mets reason to believe that the playoffs are feasible in 2019.