It occurs to me that I haven’t been exceedingly happy when greeted by offseason news of a fresh Mets acquisition (meaning a Met who hadn’t declared free agency sticking around, basically meaning Yoenis Cespedes twice) since the trade for Johan Santana  nearly eleven years ago. He was Johan Santana, two-time Cy Young winner in the very same decade during which the trade was consummated, widely acknowledged as the best pitcher in the American League over the previous several seasons. Why wouldn’t I be delighted to get Johan Santana on the Mets for two young players (Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber) I’d seen a little and two (Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey) I hadn’t seen at all?
Besides, when the Mets had made moves of a similar caliber in the offseasons prior to the Winter of Santana, those moves made me exceedingly happy. Pedro Martinez. Carlos Beltran. Carlos Delgado. Billy Wagner. Paul Lo Duca. Moises Alou to a certain extent . Big names. Glittering credentials. Age could be an issue and contracts could give me pause, but above all, I was convinced these were signings or trades that were about to make my team substantially better.
I miss that feeling.
Finding myself more joyed than overjoyed  to have inked all-time single-season saves leader Frankie Rodriguez in December 2008 directly on the heels of his having set that still-extant record of 62 should have been a sign that my hot stove mood wasn’t going to automatically warm to every get the Mets got. If anything, it’s just kept cooling. From Jason Bay in December 2009  to Todd Frazier in February 2018 , any move that could have been passed off as huge seemed like no big deal to me in terms of elevating the fortunes of my ballclub. It probably has something to do with the quality of the players, the parameters of the transactions and the general state of the franchise. Glass half full at best. Glass half empty at worst.
Given how I’ve conditioned myself to process these bulletins, I’m not surprised that when assaulted by the dispatches that informed me we were about to acquire Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Seattle Mariners for five Mets of major and minor league pedigrees  — plus money — my reaction was Glass Half Mets. It could work. It might not. We’ll see.
And we will, future tense. What we see now is a pair of names into whom there is much to be read, along with a quintet of individual departures meriting farewells that range from benign good riddance to wary goodbyes. Of course we don’t know how this exchange of personnel will shake out on the field or in the standings. We can project, but we don’t know now and won’t know for seasons to come. What looks fantastic in 2019 can look ludicrous amid the hindsight of 2029. It won’t mean we were wrong to feel however we did whenever we did, including today.
I saw the trade repeatedly referred to as a blockbuster. I hadn’t seen that word much connected to the Mets in recent winters. That alone made the deal exciting. Who didn’t love a trip to Blockbuster to rent a new release? Or a classic? Who doesn’t want to bust a block of mediocrity?
Is that what we’re doing here? Are we instead ensuring a continuation of our mostly sub-.500 ways that date to somewhere between the sizzle of Santana wearing off and the buzz over Bay failing to spark? Can I continue writing sentences that end in question marks? I will, but questions are in ample supply in December. Answers come later. We are all GMs in our heads. We’re also self-appointed CFOs, farm directors, analytics specialists and group therapists. We examine these trades from every angle.
And we still don’t know.
In the meantime, let’s respectfully usher westward the Mets we did know. Jay Bruce, last winter’s semblance of a blockbuster sequel when he was lured home from Cleveland amid a soft free agent market, did not offer a compelling argument for reboots. He played physically compromised in 2018, then didn’t play at all. Jay’s bat perked up a little toward season’s end, but his glove found no room in the outfield’s corners and appeared utterly alien at first base. But he never stopped seeming like a very good guy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someday some young Met who played with him grows into a veteran and recalls some savvy advice he absorbed from Bruce way back when. Anthony Swarzak didn’t have nearly as good a 2018 as Jay…and Jay didn’t have much of a 2018. The former Brewer was going to set up Jeurys Familia. Familia didn’t last the year, while Swarzak’s took forever to start — another episode of injuries undercutting whatever effectiveness there was to be mined. To put it kindly, maybe we never saw the Swarzak who attracted the Mets’ interest twelve months ago.
If familiarity breeds contentedness when it comes to letting go of players we’ve seen enough and thus don’t mind losing, mystery can drive us mad from uncertainty. We had only five glimpses at Gerson Bautista. They weren’t promising (he gave up runs in four of those outings), but we were willing to judge him a prospect from the time the Red Sox told us he was one when they took Addison Reed off our non-contending hands at the 2017 trade deadline. We never saw Justin Dunn, but we had time to mull who the righty the Mets chosen in the first round of 2016’s draft might develop into. I followed his progress semi-intently because he’s from a town that neighbors mine — Strong Island solidarity in action. Geographical curiosity aside, young pitchers with a reported upside will tickle a fan from anywhere.
Jarred Kelenic made me think of something Leo McGarry once said. Leo was President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff on The West Wing and, in a tense Situation Room moment, explained to Admiral Fitzwallace, “I take my daughter to a seafood place, the first thing she does is name all the lobsters in the tank, so I can’t eat them.” In my case, the lobster was Kelenic. He was that relatively rare Met minor leaguer who didn’t have to be from Nassau County for me to anticipate his arrival. I’m usually pretty chill about trading prospects unless I have reason to believe we should by no means trade a particular prospect. It hadn’t occurred to me to place an untouchable tag on Kelenic because it didn’t occur to me the Mets would trade a kid who was rocketing up the minor league rankings so soon after they picked him sixth in the nation in June.
I saw his numbers. I read the reviews. I salivated over the clips. Granted, it was all very early in the 19-year-old’s career, and a handful of highlights don’t tell you all that much; how often do you see video of prospects when they’re not succeeding? Still, outfielders who are said to have all the tools are the lifeblood of fandom. We may not see it, but we need it. It’s long-term hope that keeps us going between short-term bursts of adrenaline.
Conversely, trading 19-year-old Kelenic is the stuff of long-term dread. If he breaks through as forecast, we’ll be regularly reminded that this is a star player starring for somebody else…and he used to belong to us. If this Hindsight Haunter happens after who we traded him for didn’t pan out, well, what was the point of making such a stupid trade? If everybody gets what they came for — the Mets ASAP, the Mariners after a fashion — well, that’s good, but far down the road we will have still given up something that’s happening “now” for something that already happened and can’t help us when that version of now comes to pass.
Truthfully, any trade that isn’t Keith Hernandez for Us and Neil Allen/Rick Ownbey for Them is never going to be fully satisfying.
On the other hand, there’s an army of can’t-miss prospects who miss in baseball. In our perceptions, an immense percentage of them tantalized us at Lynchburg, Jackson, Tidewater and all manner of Met minor league outposts until their ultimate major league shortcomings tormented us in Flushing. A decent person won’t root for Kelenic to Ownbey. An honest person will admit a better outcome for him is, by extension, a lesser outcome for us. A reasonable person reminds himself that he’s 19 and has yet to see Single-A pitching. Precedent habitually feathers beds of unreliable narrative, but consider one guidepost based in recent history and take it for what it’s worth: Brandon Nimmo was drafted out of high school in 2011, debuted as a Met in 2016 and didn’t stamp himself a full-fledged borderline star until 2018.
One prospect’s trajectory is by no means definitely another’s, but whatever regret you’re gathering over Kelenic being traded, perhaps defer revisiting it for a while.
By the time we fully understand what Jarred, Justin and Gerson have become, we’ll be discussing Robinson Cano  in the past tense. How fondly we will speak of him — and his not-incidental swapmate Edwin Diaz  — will depend on the seasons directly ahead, especially the first one. That’s the idea, per Brodie Van Wagenen. At the press conference introducing our new players, BVW swore the Mets are going to be “relentless and fearless” in pursuing improvement (which reminded me of Nuke LaLoosh assuring Crash Davis that he would play this game with “fear and ignorance”). The Mets he’s shepherding are supposed to win now or die trying…though the latter was merely implied and isn’t considered preferable. “Win now” a different wintertime mindset in these parts. Even when the Mets were a team heading into, then out of a pennant year, their non-Cespedes business tended to come on little cat’s feet. If Van Wagenen chooses to make like March and come in like a lion, gosh darn it, let’s saddle up and ride that tiger!
Feline metaphors aside, the 2019 Mets will have a highly accomplished hitter in their lineup and an elite closer in their bullpen. That’s also different. Putting aside the most pessimistic precedents in our arsenal, that indeed looms as an improvement over what we had in 2018. We didn’t have any everyday player who’s yet had a career on the level of Cano’s or a reliever who had year remotely like Diaz’s. The pitcher sits on the cusp of his prime. The batter’s performance indicates a prime that isn’t necessarily over. Adding players who can do the good things they’ve done to date and, in the best of Diaz scenarios, do more than they’ve done before are how you go about winning now.
It will take adding more than the duo from Crane Country. Robbie and Eddie could be as sharp for the Mets as Frasier and Niles were for NBC, yet they’re not going anywhere grand without a fully robust cast. How the Mets build beyond the second baseman and the closer is at the heart of this winter’s Remains To Be Scenery. The rumors of who might go next for who can be chilling from a lobster-naming perspective , but one blockbuster done, it is energizing in light of Van Wagenen’s rhetoric of aggressiveness to consider we’ve migrated from the land of “if?” to the realm of “how?” Front office consensus has apparently coalesced around the controversial theory that 77-85 doesn’t cure itself.
Cano would have indisputably been the superstar to snare when he was on the market as a free agent in the winter leading to 2014, no matter that he was past 30 — which didn’t then seem like a baseball crime — or that he’d most recently plied his craft in a borough uncomfortably close to ours. The terms proposed by his aspirational agent Brodie Van Somebody were, however, out of the 2014 Mets’ sanity range . Half of the contract he signed with the Mariners has run its course, no doubt the most productive half. Nevertheless, Cano in the year he was 35 (when he wasn’t suspended for let’s say using a diuretic) could still hit the ball hard and often. Do that some more at 36 and we can shift up and out of Glass Half Mets mode…provided he doesn’t completely plunge off the notorious cliff that has tripped up some previous second base imports of great renown. Institutional memory can be such a bastard.
I can do without Cano wearing 24 , but it seemed too much to ask the Mets to stop themselves from giving it to him.
Diaz saved 57 games in 2018, just five fewer than K-Rod totaled in 2008, and joins us with considerably less mileage on his right arm. I liked Rodriguez a lot during my “the Angels are my AL team” phase, but prolonged exposure to our closer-to-be left me believing we would not be getting the best of him. I’ve seen about as much of Diaz as I have of Kelenic, but his numbers and reviews, at the major league level, don’t even fit on charts…that’s how off them they are. Age isn’t a problem. Price isn’t a problem. Ninth-inning leads, when we have them, may not be a problem. I’d love to say “won’t,” but why stir up the gods in offseason?
Van Wagenen said something about this trade pushing the Mets toward becoming a 90-win team. In my experience, the Mets have become a 90-win team only one way: by winning 90 games. That morsel of obviousness is offered here to say offseason pronouncements are better left vague, while offseason rosters better be improved. Trade One in the Age of Brodie seems, for now, a long first stride in the desirable direction. What it seems like later, well, we’ll have to see, won’t we?