The Mets are a win-now team. So they should take some risks to go for their first championship since 1986, in part because part of this window is tied to how long Jacob deGrom endures as an ace, and already two of the best pitching seasons in Mets history have been squandered on non-playoff teams.
But there are risks and then there are RISKS. For the Mets, Josh Hader belongs in that second category. There is so much talent in Hader’s left arm. Yet, the potential for peril is so great that the Mets must pass and use their assets elsewhere.
The Brewers will indeed listen on Hader, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported in an article in which the Mets were linked as a team that could have interest because bullpen is a need and because Brodie Van Wagenen was formerly the lefty’s agent at CAA. But two CAA lefty relievers — the best in free agency — in Will Smith (Braves) and Drew Pomeranz (Padres) signed recently without any indication the Mets were trying for them.
Plus, outside teams believe the Mets are prioritizing center field. If the Mets wanted to take a risk and the Brewers were willing to mitigate some salary by taking on Jed Lowrie ($10 million) and/or Jeurys Familia (two years, $22 million), then going after Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain with three years and $51 million is a wiser gamble. Because even with declining offense, Cain remains an elite defender. I doubt the Brewers would lessen their Hader request if the Mets were willing to take on Cain’s contract because as one NL executive said, “(Hader) is the kind of player you have to get full value for.”
The Brewers, like other forward-thinking small-market teams, tend to listen on any of their players because they always have to devoutly manage payrolls and talent bases now and into the near future. But obviously most of the players are never dealt. As another NL executive said, “Milwaukee feels if it can crush it for this guy, they should listen, but that hardly means they are trading him.”
But for the sake of an exercise in how the Mets should be thinking, let’s consider Hader by looking back to the Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano mistake of last year.
The Mets wanted end-game dominance, and Diaz had won the AL Reliever of the Year award — Hader won the NL that year and again in 2019. Cano was a distressed asset. He had five years at $120 million left. He turned 36 in October 2018. During the 2018 season, he was hit with an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance enhancing drug policy. The money, the age and the ban made him among the toughest players to trade in the majors. But Van Wagenen had been his agent and felt he had insight into the player that others did not.
Does Van Wagenen believe he has insight into the true nature of Hader, who you might remember had it revealed during the 2018 All-Star Game that he had posted homophobic, racist and sexist remarks on Twitter when he was younger? My suspicion is that this is easier to work through in a smaller midwest market such as Milwaukee than in New York.
Exacerbating the risk is the job. Relief is the game’s most volatile position. Only teams that know unequivocally that they are championship contenders should invest deeply in this commodity. So it made sense for the Cubs and Indians to surrender big prospects at the 2016 trade deadline to land Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, respectively.
The Mets were not in that category last offseason before obtaining Diaz. And there is a difference between a win-now team and a no-brainer championship contender. The Mets are win-now, but the NL East is the majors’ deepest division and the Braves, Nationals and Phillies are win-now too. The Mets could be good — and they were good last year — but miss the playoffs, as they did in 2019. As the second NL executive said, “I could see the Dodgers pushing hard for Hader because it feels like they are one player away. I don’t see the Mets in that class.”
In addition, this kind of move would further jeopardize the Mets’ near future. Because why would the Brewers ask for less than the Mariners did last year? Like Diaz before his trade, Hader has four years of team control left. Diaz was a year younger and not yet arbitration-eligible (as Hader is now). But Hader being lefty and proven in a playoff chase offsets that. For access to Diaz, the Mets not only took on most of Cano’s contract, but gave up two of their best prospects, notably Jarred Kelenic, now a consensus top-20 prospect in the game.
They gave up two more prospects for Marcus Stroman. There is probably not enough left for this to be a prospect deal, so it would probably entail trading Jeff McNeil. And trading an All-Star not yet arbitration-eligible for even a great closer when you are not positive you can win is the wrong path.
Lastly, if the Brewers are moving Hader, yes, it is about maximizing his value. But also it is fear that a reedy, full-effort reliever who pushed hard to make the playoffs the last two years has a shelf life. Maybe Hader will prove surprisingly durable long-term. What would you gamble on that? Better yet, if you were the Mets, what would you gamble on that?
There is too much risk.
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