In recent years, the New York Mets haven’t always been the most consistent MLB team in terms of winning. The Mets haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and have eclipsed 80 wins in a season only twice since that same year.
However, the Mets have slowly restocked their team with pitching depth that is young (with the exception of Bartolo Colon), talented, and brimming with potential. To go along with the strong pitching, New York’s offense isn’t a world beater, but it scores when needed. Entering play on June 4, the offensive unit ranked 24th in baseball in runs scored, but it should be bolstered by the pending returns of the injured David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud.
The Mets have parlayed their strong pitching and just-enough offense into a strong start that sees them only a half-game behind the Washington Nationals atop the N.L. East entering play on June 4.
What has been most impressive about New York’s rise to contender status is not necessarily the pitching, but, rather, it is the shrewd trades made to get them where they are now. New York has made a recent habit of dealing players who were either surplus to requirements or too old to be considered part of the future in exchange for much of the team’s current nucleus.
In the first of a brilliant string of moves, the Mets acquired John Buck, d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and prospect Wuilmer Becerra from the Toronto Blue Jays for R.A. Dickey and two backup catchers -- Mike Nickeas and Josh Thole.
When all is said and done, the trade could go down as one of the most lopsided trades in Major League history, resembling the amalgamation of a fleecing and a highway train robbery.
Dickey was coming off a Cy Young-winning season, but he has been closer to average north of the border with a 30-31 record and a good-but-not-Cy-Young-good ERA of 4.19 in 78 starts. The Blue Jays are paying the 40-year-old $12 million for his services this season.
Nickeas played in one game (zero at-bats) for the Blue Jays in 2013 and has not appeared in the Majors since.
Thole was recently sent to the Minors to make room for Dioner Navarro, who was returning from the disabled list. This transaction only confirmed the notion that Thole is third in the Toronto catching hierarchy behind Russell Martin and Navarro. In 110 games for the Jays in three seasons, the former Mets catcher has a .215 batting average, eleven extra-base hits, and a paltry 17 RBI.
In return for that underwhelming bundle of players, the Mets acquired a group that is the exact opposite of underwhelming. The two headliners of the deal, Syndergaard and d’Arnaud, figure to be franchise cornerstone players in Queens for a long time. The sample sizes are small, but the great potential is there for both players.
Syndergaard has shown flashes of brilliance early in his rookie season, posting a 3.77 ERA and 32 strikeouts in in 28.2 innings pitched. His ERA was 1.82 entering his last start, but a bad outing against the Padres made the number skyrocket. His battery mate, d’Arnaud, is injured at present but came out of the gates swinging with a .317 batting average and 10 RBI in only 11 games. If both can continue at paces even somewhat close to their respective torrid starts, the Mets will be sitting pretty come September.
Adding insult to injury in the Jays/Mets swap is Becerra, who according to MLB.com, ranks as one of the Mets’ top 30 prospects.
Mets 1, Blue Jays 0
After finding two players to build around (along with Matt Harvey and Juan Lagares among others), the Mets set out to find more complimentary players. This started when Buck was traded.
The forgotten man in the Dickey trade, Buck spent only part of a season in Queens, contributing 15 home runs and 60 RBI before being dealt to Pittsburgh mid-season with Marlon Byrd. The then 32-year-old catcher and then 35-year-old Byrd netted the Mets quality role players; one of them is Vic Black, a reliever and former first-round draft pick with a career 2.96 ERA. Also heading to New York in the deal was infielder Dilson Herrera. Herrera hasn’t hit much in the bigs yet (.226 batting average in an albeit small 28-game sample size), but a career .301 batting average in the Minors suggests there is potential.
More recently, the team has targeted the bullpen as an area of upgrade and again made some lopsided-looking deals to strengthen the team. Jerry Blevins, one of the numerous excellent relievers to come out of Oakland in the past few years, has missed time due to injury, but he has not allowed a single run this season to date. He posted a sparkling 3.30 ERA in 267 innings out of the bullpen in Oakland before dominating this season. It is safe to say this guy can pitch.
So, whom did New York offload to acquire Blevins from the Nationals? They dumped none other than Matt den Dekker, a 27-year-old outfielder hitting .230 at Triple-A. Granted, Blevins had a bit of a down year in Washington last season -- his early dominance this season suggests it was more of an outlier than anything else. Still, when a general manager can acquire someone of Blevins’ quality for a Triple-A outfielder hitting .230, he is allowed to pat himself on the back.
Mets 2, Jays/Nationals 0
In another move to bolster the bullpen, the Mets added Alex Torres from the San Diego Padres. Like Blevins, Torres has roots with an organization (Tampa Bay Rays) known for churning out top relievers. In an unsurprising move, Torres was solid in San Diego (54 innings pitched 3.33 ERA, 51 strikeouts) after posting a 1.91 ERA in Tampa. He has already made 23 appearances, spanning 20.1 innings for the Mets and posting a sparkling 2.66 ERA with 24 strikeouts.
Also similar to Blevins, Torres was acquired for little relative to his value. Cory Mazzoni and a player to be named later switched coasts in the deal. Torres has a 2.79 ERA in 19.1 innings pitched while Mazzoni has a 10.29 ERA in 7.0 innings.
Now they are just showing off. Mets 3, Jays/Nats/Padres 0.
The Mets are back in contention for the first time in what seems like forever, and while that feat is impressive given the Mets’ recent history, the fact that they were able to turn a starting pitcher approaching 40, three backup catchers, an aging outfielder and two Triple-A players into a future ace, a potential All-Star catcher capable of hitting .300, three outstanding relievers, and (at worst) a backup infielder under team control, means general manager Sandy Alderson had a pretty good day at the office.
Mets Front Office 1, Rest of the League 0.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.