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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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So That Was a Lot

Some days can’t possibly be summed up by one post. So consider this one just the start of a conversation that kicks off tonight but will go on in some form for years.

The Mets traded pretty much everybody. Justin Verlander went back to the Astros, where — as I semi-seriously predicted — he’ll now face off with the Rangers’ Max Scherzer for a division title. Tommy Pham went to the Diamondbacks. Dominic Leone, not even the 20th guy on the roster I thought anyone would want, was shipped off to the Angels.

We all thought the Mets were going to merely tinker with their plan to spend big on free agency in the short term until their farm system was rebuilt. We thought that meant keeping guys on 2024 contracts and supplementing them with more short-term mercenaries. Instead, the Mets decided to use the money already spent on those high-priced free agents to, in effect, buy prospects, accelerating the farm rebuild in ways the draft doesn’t allow.

It’s interesting, bordering on audacious — where most ballclubs (and hell, most people) have trouble accepting the idea of sunk costs and admitting mistakes, Steve Cohen just shrugs. It’s a gambit that may launch a thousand business-of-baseball seminars.

Remember that term: business of baseball. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

What was already an earthquake of a trading deadline came with an additional tremblor courtesy of Scherzer’s account of his conversations with Billy Eppler and Cohen. Scherzer said, essentially, that he was told the Mets now saw 2024 as a retooling year and 2025-26 as their next window of contention, meaning they wouldn’t be shopping for top free agents.

I have no reason to doubt Scherzer, who’s shown himself to be financially and strategically astute and has always struck me as honest, sometimes to a fault. So that leave two possible explanations for the gap between Eppler’s talk about this not being a liquidation and the focus turning to 2025-26.

The first is that Eppler soft-pedaled what 2024 will look like competitively and Scherzer spilled the beans. And hey, that’s possible.

But I think the second explanation is more interesting. I have no inside knowledge whatsoever, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it went something like this: With 2023 a disaster, the Mets decide to go beyond just trading the free agents to be and listen to offers on Scherzer, who no longer looks like much of a reliable commodity anyway. That process crystallizes Cohen’s thinking about what’s happened and the best path forward, and he does what a smart, unsentimental hedge-fund guy does: He concludes the current plan isn’t working, pivots to a new one, and wastes no time seeing it executed, because what’s the point of waiting?

The speed of that takes most everybody by surprise, including Scherzer and a bunch of his soon-to-be ex-teammates and Eppler. This isn’t how baseball franchises are run — though maybe it should be.

(Sticking with the Athletic — if you don’t subscribe, you really should — Will Sammon sees Eppler as the prime architect of all this. He’d know better than me, but I dunno — it feels more like Cohen’s mind at work.)

Whoever’s hand was on the tiller, we wind up back with the business of baseball, and the other part of this conversation.

The new plan strikes me as smart. (Hell, I thought the previous plan was smart — it just didn’t work out.) But that will be cold comfort for the rest of the year, when a bunch of dudes cosplaying as Mets lose a bunch of games, and it will cold comfort next year, when the Mets will likely be a team with a bunch of pieces bolted on and assessed and repositioned and tossed away — a team that we’ll all know is waiting to become something that it isn’t yet.

The business of baseball stuff will be cold comfort on nights like Tuesday, in which someone named Rafael Ortega played for the Mets at 8:10 pm, 40 minutes after I learned Rafael Ortega was Met property. The Mets and Royals, 2015 World Series opponents turned thoroughly irrelevant outfits, played a long game that was alternately torpid and sloppy, with the Mets taking a 6-4 lead in the 10th on a Francisco Alvarez homer, immediately surrendering that lead when closer by default Brooks Raley reported for duty without a decent slider, and then —

— oh God do we have to?

I suppose we do. The Royals loaded the bases and with two out the just-recalled Josh Walker was entrusted with getting the Mets to an 11th inning. Walker somehow took the mound without a pitch com; Alvarez tapped his ear and started to come out to address the lack; Walker went to step off but got his foot stuck in a hole on the mound; and the umpires called a balk that brought in the winning run.

Yes, that’s right: The Mets lost on a walk-off balk. A walk-off balk committed by a pitcher who didn’t throw a single pitch. That really happened — it’s not some LOLMets meme invented by a spiteful person to test the limits of credulity.

It really happened. It was embarrassing and infuriating and amusing in a bleak way and most of all it was deeply stupid.

One day it’s possible that we’ll talk about the 2023 trade deadline and admire how what the Mets did taught a generation of baseball fans the value of not being sentimental. That day may even come pretty soon. But until then, I fear, there will be a lot of days that will be embarrassing and infuriating and deeply stupid.

26 comments to So That Was a Lot

  • Lenny65

    I read something yesterday about Alonso being surprised to hear his name pop up in trade rumors, and (if true) I thought, good. Re: what you wrote about sentimentality, we all love Petey and hope he’s belting dingers for the Mets for many years to come, but maybe he needs his complacency rattled a little. Not to single him out, but fact is that as good as Petey, Lindor, McNeil and Nimmo are, and as much as we (mostly) like them all, they aren’t winning.

    If you’ve reached the conclusion that the Max/Verlander experiment is a bust, better to unload them now, while teams are desperate, than to try to move a disgruntled old pitcher and his massive contract in the off-season, when they’ll both be a year older. Given how 2023 has played out, I’m not really going to miss them. Sure, now there are huge gaping holes to fill, but in all seriousness, would we really have been able to count on them for 2024 anyhow? They were for now, and now is a lost cause.

  • Curt Emanuel

    One of the first rules of investing is that when you make a bad one don’t delay, deny or any of that – admit it, get out of it, and move on. We’re movin’ on.

    After doing a quick overview I’m pretty impressed with the haul we got in return for waving adios to the season. Two high-minor prospects, top 5 (based on some sources each is #1) for their respective teams slated to reach the majors in 2024. A couple of minor-league bodies and some 17-18 year-olds in low minors who sure look intriguing. And based on last night, the opportunity to move up a few spots in next year’s draft.

    Not gonna comment on the money spent. Not my cash. Besides, with the Bobby Bonilla thing still going on, commenting on cash payouts would be just repeating myself.

    In return we get to enjoy games like last night’s.

  • eric1973

    I said here 2 weeks ago that Cohen could just cut Scherzer, Verlander, and Lindor, eat all their contracts, and just start over, but really never thought most of it would actually happen.

    (It does bother me a bit that Leone was traded, as I thought he had half a clue.)

    This takes me back to the end of the 1974 season, one year after the success of 1973, where we won the pennant and should have won the WS.

    After 1974, with virtually the same exact team, we were 71-91, then traded every bench player we could find, and wound up with Mike Vail in return. Maybe we got a couple of those in this massacre, who knows.

  • Matt in DE

    I am sure glad that I decided sleep was more important than watching this game after the 5th inning. Walk-off balk. Classic #LOLMets.

  • K Lastima

    First off season move should be to offer Pete a fair deal for say 6-7 years to buy out his free agency and eliminate that potential distraction, but if he rejects it and wants to play it out to FA, then deal him for A+ prospects and move on

  • Better or worse than the D.J. Carrasco walk-off balk in 2011? That one was also in extras but it was against Atlanta, which makes everything worse IMO. What happened last night was simply comedy.

  • Jack H

    The business of baseball revolves around recycling human capital from club to club, throwing enormous sums of money on the wall to see what sticks, and serving up cake to the hordes of their paying customers while the insiders stuff as much cash as they can in their pockets from that wall. In this business, a incompetent can be charged with “building a team”, fail miserably, and then get credited with coming up with an out-of-the-box cleanup scheme where the hapless recycled employee jettisons pro players for a skiff full of prospects – many of whom we’ll never hear of again.
    As for the paying customers? Don’t expect a reduction of ticket prices, parking, over-priced concession fare, or your subscription to MLB Extra Innings.
    We gave you cake! What more do you want?

  • Peter Scarnati

    Have commented only once or twice this year. Now seems like as good a time as any to chime in.
    Interesting take Jason. I’ll go one step further and proffer a theory that, as far as “the conversation” is concerned, maybe, just maybe, they were telling Scherzer things that would leave him with little choice but to waive his no trade and ultimately, get him out the door. Either way, I’m certainly not disappointed with him moving on. In the final analysis, what good was he? After all, he only LOST the two games for which he was signed to win! See ya!
    As for the others, they were no longer of any use to the club, with the exception of Verlander who would have been nice to have to at least start 2024 with. I was impressed with him, especially after he tipped his cap to the fans on Sunday…. something almost NO ONE ever does anymore, including DeGrom. No small thing in my book. I wish him well.
    As for the games that lay ahead, I’ll simply take them for what they are worth — games of baseball, nothing more, nothing less. I travel in an RV all the time (currently in the mountains of West Virginia). I choose to follow along every night with the radio broadcast only (be it on an actual satellite radio, or streaming the call on my tablet), and if so motivated, catch the video highlights the next morning over coffee. Like clockwork, I’ll enjoy my favorite beverage and a nice cigar during each game. At my advancing age, as a Mets fan for the better part of 55 years, I am happy to have the opportunity to do this. As for a game such as last night, a shrug and “let me see what time tomorrow’s game starts” will do.

    • Baffled why pitchers tipping their caps to the crowd went away. Seems like an easy thing for a team to ask its pitchers to do.

      Your approach to the remaining games sounds very wise. Enjoy your travels!

      • Peter Scarnati

        In all honesty, teams shouldn’t even have to ask. Back in the 60’s and 70’s it was an automatic thing to do.
        But, alas, “it’s how the game is played,” I suppose.

  • Dave

    To everyone who keeps saying “it’s going to be a rough 2 months,” I would point out that the last 4 haven’t exactly been anti-rough.

    Cohen’s financial resources enable him to cut his losses easier than most; the Mets top prospects list – an inexact crystal ball, sure, but some indicator of the sustainability pipeline Cohen seeks – now has 4 brand new names among the top 9 and 7 among the top 22. That’s hard to do after the draft is over. Compare it to the endless string of nobodies the Mets acquired in selloffs in 2017 and 2018…bad enough that Drew Smith turned out to be the best return by far. And that was largely because the Wilpons refused to eat any contract money.

    It is, as it always is, what it is. Now I can spend more time worrying that my football team’s high profile middle aged future HOF’er acquisition will become their Max Scherzer.

  • Seth

    In tech, the term is “fail fast.” It makes a lot of sense.

  • Cobra Joe

    While I’m sorry to see Justin Verlander depart the Mets in a return to Houston, (although the less said about the also departed Max Scherzer, the better), I’m very interested in the two young outfielders the Mets acquired in the trade with the Astros.

    Outfielders Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford are said to be both excellent prospects. I just hope that they’re much better than the “immortal” Rich Chiles, another outfielder the Mets obtained from the Astros in a woeful 1972 trade involving the late, great Tommie Agee.

  • greensleeves

    Thanks for this recap, Jason.
    I like the phrase, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a candidate for “the value of not being sentimental,” as we surely have
    enough cynicism in our world already. To be a fan is by definition to be sentimental; to the laundry, to the
    park, and of course, certain players. (I know you know that as much as anyone.)
    And yes, god yes! to the tip of the hat. We need more of that because it’s such a two-way street.
    However brief, Verlander, Canha and Pham rose above all the nonsense. I wish them well and will miss their contributions on and off the field.

  • Guy K

    Billy Eppler either lied to Max Scherzer, or he lied to the media and the fans.
    Considering Eppler’s proclivity for new-age corporate-speak, I wouldn’t rule out either.
    I also wouldn’t rule out the Mets making a serious run at 90 losses this season, and it sounds like next season will be a throwback to all those interchangeable years between 2009 and 2014, where the ceiling might be about 75 wins.

    The troubling thing about “repurposing” for the future is that, if you don’t have a front office skilled in identifying unproven talent (and I’m not sure the Mets do, or will), that future might become a nebulous target that keeps getting kicked down the road.

  • Eric

    It wasn’t the first ugly Mets loss this season. It reminded me of 2015 with a Royals late comeback and aggressive small ball facilitated by Mets misplay. Don’t forget the Brett Baty throwing error in the 10th and the earlier error on the double steal that was assigned to Alvarez’s throw, but Baty should have been able to at least knock it down to prevent the run.

    Balking in the run was bad enough. Walker’s explanation for it was worse. The truth may have been even worse. On the radio, Raad or McCarthy said he watched the replay and spotted several balks, that Walker kept moving, more than the one stumble Walker admitted to.

    Baty has been a disappointment so far. He hasn’t hit and the defense is shaky with game-changing errors. Other homegrown Mets like McNeil, Alvarez, and Alonso defended better than expected early on; not Baty. Still, too early to give up on him, especially with the Mets out of contention.

    As for the Mets’ pivot, I wonder how much of it is sober calculation and how much is a Steinbrenner-esque reaction to the September-onward collapse of last season that has metastasized this season.

    I also wonder how much Cohen has a GM mentality in viewing the players he inherited as tainted by previous ownership and therefore he’s inclined to replace them with a team built from the ground up under his ownership, and that includes removing players acquired to augment the inherited core.

    I’m more surprised than not that Verlander was traded instead of kept to anchor the staff next season. But if the Mets don’t expect to contend next season, they can’t expect the trade value will be higher this time next year for a 41-year-old pitcher. He was hurt to start this season. The Mets signed Scherzer just as he tipped over to his decline. Best to trade Verlander before he obviously tips over on his decline.

    Could Eppler have returned a better haul for Verlander, perhaps from the Orioles? Maybe, but Verlander has a no-trade clause, so Eppler was handicapped as far as an all-out bidding war.

    Verlander, Scherzer, Robertson, Leone, Pham, Canha, and before that, Escobar traded. Verlander the only surprise. No takers for Narvaez, Vogelbach, and Ottavino I guess. Mostly good position prospects with, including the Escobar trade, 3 so-so pitching prospects. Hopefully at least one of them will turn out to be a better big-leaguer for the Mets than Pete Crow-Armstrong will be for the Cubs.

    • Eric

      Add: I forgot to mention the disappointment of the 2021 season, Cohen’s 1st as owner. With 3 straight failures under Cohen despite the historical amount of money he’s pumped in, the players that define this iteration of the Mets have not earned the leeway with their owner to avoid a ground-up rebuild.

    • I like Baty, so I’m biased toward giving him a break, but I think he’s hit a wall mentally: The defense looked sound earlier in the year and is obviously much improved from 2022, but he’s had some setbacks and it looks like those have got in his head and crept into his approach to hitting as well.

      None of which is a hanging crime, though it’s hard to watch. And there’s no other level at which he can learn. He just has to find his way through it, if he can.

      • Lenny65

        I totally agree. They have to just let Baty play 2023 out, then allow him every opportunity to nail down 3B next spring. Whether he does that is on him (and the coaching staff too). Sometimes a prospect needs that adjustment period, and you can’t just panic and give up too soon, especially when you have nothing to lose. This could be the first real professional adversity Baty has ever faced, and it’s important to let him figure that out.

  • ljcmets

    I had a whole post after Sunday’s game eaten by the machines, and I decided it wasn’t that pertinent anyway, as things would surely change before I could recreate it. But it ended this way: “If that was the last pitch Verlander ever throws for the Mets, * he and Mets fans have a sweet memory of his brief time here.”

    I really wish they had stopped after Sunday. Verlander, Canha and Pham were all very easy to like, and I want to like players on the Mets, with whom I spend so much time each summer. But whoever wrote on Twitter that the Verlander trade would give younger fans a slight idea of what the Seaver Trade was like in June 1977** is way, way off. If you don’t remember that, you’re lucky, and trust every single one of us who do, it wasn’t like yesterday. Not a bit. I feel that many younger Mets fans probably think we’re all nuts with the Seaver worship after so many years, but you never forget your first love. Verlander was a spring fling in comparison.

    I found after Sunday that I didn’t miss Max and Robertson that much, but yesterday’s flurry was a gut punch. The real news was so somber and sobering that I took a break and checked in on the game last night in hopes it would cheer me up. Ah, there it was…the unmistakable essence of a lost Mets season. As Charlie Brown might say, “Good Grief!”

    * Spoiler alert: It was.
    ** A few days ago I too referenced 1977-1982, but that was in response to those clamoring to trade Alonso. Alonso is not only a key piece of the core of this Mets team -along with Lindor, Nimmo, Alvarez, McNeill, Diaz – he’s the one who’s selling all those #20 jerseys in the stands and is turning a whole generation of kids into Mets fans. He needs a new contract ASAP if he wants one. And even if they trade Pete, which would be horrible for Pete and Mets fans, it wouldn’t be like Seaver. Nothing could ever be.

  • Lenny65

    While I can’t say I’m “happy” about the BIG FIRE SALE, I dunno, maybe breaking up this mess of a team is a good idea. They just plain aren’t winning. No one can question Scherzer’s competitive fire, but the bottom line is that he simply wasn’t getting the job done in NY. He came up lame last year when they needed him most, and this year he mostly labored through his underwhelming starts. Verlander was better, but could they really have counted on him to be the #1 in 2024? He could bottom out at any time. Just objectively speaking, it’s better to move them now, when contenders are desperate, than to wait and try to move them in the off-season, when teams can be more choosy.

    • Eric

      “maybe breaking up this mess of a team is a good idea. They just plain aren’t winning.”

      We can say this era’s core of players started in earnest in 2019. They’ve stacked some notable individual achievements, but as a team they’ve disappointed every season, including the 2020 COVID short season. Last season’s team was fun through August and then choked down the stretch and in the play-offs.

      The trade deadline deals didn’t break up the core, but they moved the team closer to a full rebuild if they don’t prove themselves soon. Pumping up the farm system sets that up.

      • Lenny65

        They just fell flat late last year, and it’s carried over. As talented as they may be on paper, this group didn’t so much as mount a single serious charge this year where they looked like legitimate contenders for anything. If, for example, they reeled off an 11 of 12 run in May or June, there might have been a belief that maybe they had it in them to do it again. But there are just no signs of life there, and with very few exceptions, that’s on all of them.

        Given how badly 2023 has gone, the Mets have some difficult questions to ponder. Like, is Lindor a real centerpiece, or is he just “a” piece? Was Jeff McNeil an illusion? Is Petey just Dave Kingman 2.0? I don’t know. But I do know that together, they’re less than the sum of the parts, and they just simply aren’t winning together. And you can’t do whatever it takes to keep a “core” together if the core is all potential and no results.

        • Eric

          I hope the core players understand that they’ve disappointed for enough seasons by now that they’ve eroded our loyalty and patience.

          The owner and front office have waved the white flag on this season and traded away key members of the team. Key members of a losing team, of course, but key members nonetheless. With successive failing seasons and a weakened team, the situation now is a test of the players’ character, if they’ll respond by raising their play and competing or giving in to the circumstances and collapsing further. If they credibly fight back for the rest of the season, that would restore some hope that the current core can win.

  • The King

    No one mentioned Pete getting hit in the face by a foul ball. He needs to be a full-time DH. Maybe Baty can move to 1st, he can’t be allowed to continue losing games at 3rd.

  • Cobra Joe

    NY Mets Third Baseman Brett Baty: The second coming of Robin Ventura or the second coming of Roy Staiger?