With Zack Greinke off the free agent market and James Shields gone from the trading block, teams searching for top-tier starting pitching have one obvious place left to look: New York, where R.A. Dickey remains available.
He won’t come cheaply. Apparently general manager Sandy Alderson was not bluffing when he said last week that he is looking for a “difference-maker” in exchange for Dickey; various local and national reports indicate that Rangers top power prospect Mike Olt, for example, would not be enough in a deal. FOX Sports speculated that the Blue Jays could entice the Mets with a package of catcher J.P. Arencibia and center fielder Anthony Gose, but not with Arencibia alone.
If the Mets do not find a package they like, they can still simply keep Dickey and try to extend him for a reasonable price — the knuckleballer is reportedly seeking no more than two years and $30 million. But the Mets have made it clear they are willing to deal him, and offers may increase now that other top options are off the market.
Despite public optimism from COO Jeff Wilpon, the New York Post quoted an anonymous source Tuesday in saying that the Mets are only a “50-50″ bet to ink third baseman David Wright to a long-term contract extension this winter.
The source told the Post that Wright “is less than thrilled with the length of contract and amount of guaranteed money the Mets have offered,” which “could set up a game of chicken between Mets brass and Wright’s agents.”
“Part of it is [COO] Jeff Wilpon tries to win every negotiation, he doesn’t go for the middle ground,” an anonymous source told the paper.
Later Tuesday, Wilpon appeared publicly in Far Rockaway, Queens, and said he is more optimistic than he was two months ago that the Mets will be able to re-sign Wright and pitcher R.A. Dickey.
“Certainly it’s gotten better because there’s conversations going back and forth,” Wilpon said. “So when you look at it from the end of the season when you didn’t really know how they were going to accept, or look at how we were positioning things and they were positioning things, there’s more optimism.”
Both Wright and Dickey are under team control for one more season.
Unprompted this week, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson mentioned Jon Niese and Dillon Gee as trade candidates in addition to R.A. Dickey.
But not everyone is up for grabs. The New York Post reported that Ike Davis is unavailable and Daniel Murphy is “unlikely” to be traded, as the Mets do not know how they would replace the offense of either player. If the Mets strike a significant deal, it will be drawing from their strength — starting pitching — to plug up holes in their lineup.
If the Mets make any move prior to Tuesday’s deadline, it will likely involve outfielder Scott Hairston, the only player on their roster generating significant interest from other clubs. Hairston could bolster a contender’s bench with his power right-handed bat.
Of course, Hairston also knows this, which is why he has been trying his hardest to block out trade rumors. Until his agent contacts him, Hairston said, he will do his best to keep his focus on the field.
“It’s kind of hard to ignore them,” Hairston said. “I have friends that send me texts every day. Right now, once I get to the ballpark I just focus in on doing my job that given day. I know a lot can happen in the next few days, but I’m a Met now, I’m happy to be a Met and I’m enjoying my time here.”
General manager Sandy Alderson has said that he will not trade Hairston for a low-level prospect. But he did not rule out dealing Hairston for a piece that could legitimately help the Mets in 2013 and beyond. As a pending free agent, Hairston may be playing out his final months with the Mets, anyway, giving them added incentive to deal him.
Though blockbuster trades — Zack Greinke, anyone? — receive most of the attention around Trade Deadline time, role players such as Scott Hairston can also make significant impacts on pennant races.
To that end, the Mets have been fielding offers for fourth outfielder Scott Hairston, one of the league’s best bench bats against left-handed pitching. General manager Sandy Alderson said last week that he does not want to do anything to hurt his team prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But if a team approaches the Mets with an offer of a valuable chip under team control, they may not be able to say no. Hairston will be a free agent in three months, anyway, and his strong season may price him out of returning to Flushing.
Hairston could be a valuable bench bat for a contending team. He is batting .308 with nine home runs and a .958 OPS in 120 at-bats against left-handers, and owns an .836 career OPS against them.
General manager Sandy Alderson reassured reporters last week that the Mets would certainly be buyers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
How things have changed.
“You’ve got to be realistic and take into account where you are from day to day,” Alderson said. The Mets are 1-8 since the All-Star break, and Sunday’s 12th-inning loss to the Dodgers dipped them below .500 for the first time all season.
“We’re certainly not in the same position today that we were four, five days ago,” he continued. “That doesn’t mean we’re sellers, but I’d say right now that we’re exploring a lot of different scenarios.”
The Mets’ needs are obvious — New York’s bullpen has the worst ERA in the Majors and the team is left with just two members of its Opening Day starting rotation. Top pitching prospect Matt Harvey will make his Major League debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, but Alderson knows that one arm won’t turn around a season that has so quickly spiraled out of control.
“We’ll see whether it’s important for us to invest more heavily in 2012,” he said. “I don’t think we want to invest too heavily in ’13 or ’14 to the significant detriment of 2012.
“It’s important for us to win games. We’re trying to change the perception here, and part of that is actually winning games, which we realize. So if we were to make a trade, we would want to make sure that it made sense — not just in terms of acquiring additional talent, but also taking into account the importance of the balance of this year.”
Though unexpected, New York’s post-All-Star-break slump isn’t entirely shocking — the team lost Dillon Gee to likely season-ending surgery over the break, and ace Johan Santana’s ankle injury culminated in sub-par outings. With a new playoff format to include a second Wild Card team, New York hasn’t jumped ship on 2012, but Alderson’s original self-labeling of the Mets as buyers has seemingly shifted into a holding pattern.
“You can make deals that aren’t blockbusters that are going to really improve you significantly for the remainder of this year, but set you up nicely — in some way — for the following year.”
Rumors aside, the Mets have just one main concern in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Dismissing a right-handed bat or starting pitcher as priorities, general manager Sandy Alderson said Tuesday that his focus is to acquire help for the club’s 30th-ranked bullpen. Outside of that, Alderson is hesitant to mortgage any fraction of the organization’s future in exchange for a short-term fix.
“That’s the number one priority,” Alderson said of the bullpen. “We’ve looked at other things. Other things could develop. But we’re focused on a long-term plan with the recognition that 2012 is very important, and we want to be as competitive as we can possibly be. Hopefully we don’t have to compromise the vision.”
Rumors have swirled throughout July that the Mets might be interested in a power right-handed bat or a catcher, possibly in the form of the same person. Then, when right-hander Dillon Gee underwent potentially season-ending surgery last week, the Mets became potential buyers for a starting pitcher.
But starters are expensive in terms of the prospects that other teams expect back, and the Mets already added a right-handed bat Tuesday when they activated Jason Bay from the disabled list. So rather than focus on either of their areas, they will use their lower-tier prospects and available cash to try to score a solid reliever.
At the least, they are committed to that goal. The Mets have assigned all of their Major League scouts to cover big league clubs this week, rather than check out prospects in the Minors.
“So if that’s any evidence of our point of view, our state of mind, we are buyers,” Alderson said. “Right now, we’re buyers.”
Though bullpen help remains their top priority, the Mets have been talking to the Rockies about acquiring catcher Ramon Hernandez, according to multiple reports. Hernandez would solve two issues for the Mets, allowing them to upgrade their offense at catcher while simultaneously providing them with the right-handed bat that they crave. But Colorado’s asking price remains too high, according to the reports.
One of the relievers on the Mets’ Trade Deadline wish list, according to a report Tuesday in the New York Post, is former closer Francisco Rodriguez.
From a purely baseball perspective, that makes plenty of sense. Because of Rodriguez’s 4.00 ERA and $8-million salary as Milwaukee’s setup man, the Brewers cannot rightfully ask for a significant haul of prospects in return. But Rodriguez does have a long track record of excellence in late-game situations and holds a 2.66 ERA in 25 outings since May 4, striking out nearly a batter per inning and walking one-third as many.
Rodriguez, for what it’s worth, also has experience pitching in New York. He was mellower last season after taking anger management classes following his 2010 arrest at Citi Field for assault, so that New York experience could make him more valuable than other late-inning options.
Other relievers available include Brett Myers of the Astros, Huston Street of the Padres and Grant Balfour of the A’s.
Though the Mets are still feeling out their own roster before deciding what to do at the Trade Deadline, it’s clear that the top priority here is bullpen help. Despite the offseason acquisitions of Frank Francisco (who is injured), Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez, the bullpen still ranks last in baseball by a significant margin.
Buster Olney indicated Thursday on Twitter that the Mets could be a match for A’s reliever Grant Balfour, which would make sense. The Mets are not going to pay enormous sums of money or prospects to acquire a reliever, but someone such as Balfour could potentially provide a decent return without the Mets having to give up any of their top prospects or take on significant salary.
But with many teams still in legitimate playoff contention and the market for relievers consequently developing slowly, the Mets are not likely to swing a trade until after the All-Star break.