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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.”
- The Cubs’ Ryan Dempster is said to be attracting a lot of trade interest. The Dodgers are one team that has proposed a deal for the veteran right-handed pitcher, according to Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com. The Cubs would like to add young pitching in return. Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reported that the two clubs were “having somewhat constructive conversations” about a deal by Thursday but that the Tigers and Braves figure to be among the other teams vying for Dempster.
- Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com tweeted that teams also are expressing interest in two other Cubs, infielder Jeff Baker and outfielder Reed Johnson, who could serve as right-handed bats off the bench.
- Rosenthal and colleague Jon Morosi also reported that the Pirates, Red Sox and Tigers are among the clubs pursuing D-backs shortstop Stephen Drew. The Pirates are still after Arizona outfielder Justin Upton as well, according to Morosi.
- The Tigers, Rangers and Pirates are a few of the teams that have asked the Rockies about second baseman Marco Scutaro, according to the Denver Post. With Colorado in last place in the NL West, the team also could deal relievers such as closer Rafael Betancourt, as well as catchers Ramon Hernandez and Wil Nieves.
- Teams interested in outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street of the Padres might end up disappointed. San Diego plans to sign both players to long-term deals before the trade deadline, reported Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
- The Twins will look to acquire pitching in exchange for surging lefty Francisco Liriano, wrote Scott Miller of CBSSports.com. The Yankees, Mets, Angels, Braves, Blue Jays and Red Sox highlight the group looking into Liriano.
– Andrew Simon
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.”
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.
In a Twitter post early Friday morning, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Mets and Mariners have joined the Marlins, Reds, Red Sox and Rangers as clubs checking up on Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez.
From a New York perspective, that one is tough to figure. This is the first time all winter the Mets have been rumored to be looking into acquiring an established Major League player, as opposed to trading one away. As recently as last week, the Mets had discussed dealing their own young left-handed starter, Jon Niese, with a list of teams including the Angels and Yankees.
General manager Sandy Alderson has been adamant in saying that he is looking at trades to improve the Mets both for the future and for 2012. Gonzalez would certainly represent more of the latter than the former; though just 26 years old, he is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, meaning his salary is poised to skyrocket.
What’s more, Alderson stated publicly last week that the top-tier prospects in New York’s farm system — Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey et al — are the only untouchables in the organization outside of David Wright. Given that such prospects are presumably what Oakland would be seeking in a deal for Gonzalez, it is unclear what the Mets could offer in a swap.
The Mets and Dodgers discussed a trade of infielder Daniel Murphy at the Winter Meetings, a source told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick, and may revisit those talks later this offseason.
Murphy’s name has come up sporadically in trade rumors this offseason, and for good reason: he ranked fifth in the National League batting race at the time of his season-ending knee injury in August. But Murphy does not have a clear defensive home and will hit arbitration after next season, making him a more expensive proposition than he currently is.
The Mets have been active in trade talks in recent days, also discussing potential deals for Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell, according to sources. General manager Sandy Alderson has indicated that the only players he would not consider trading this offseason are David Wright and the organization’s top handful of Minor League prospects.
The Mets spent time Wednesday fielding inquiries on hard-throwing right-hander Bobby Parnell, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. Parnell, who has been squeezed out of New York’s late-inning bullpen mix due to the recent acquisitions of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez, struggled down the stretch last season, blowing four of his final seven save opportunities. But the Mets believe his triple-digit fastball may attract suitors.
No Major League player is currently untouchable for the Mets, who also fielded inquiries Wednesday on left-handed starter Jon Niese.
The Mets are one of five teams on free-agent pitcher Mark Buehrle’s list of finalists, according to an industry source. The Rangers and Marlins are also on the list.
After losing shortstop Jose Reyes to the Marlins, the Mets have $20-25 million to spend on player acquisitions, freeing them up to pursue higher-caliber pitching than they once thought possible.