During the press conference to introduce Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz as Mets, Jeff Wilpon mentioned the team’s analytics department projected 83-84 wins in 2019 before this acquisition and 88-90 now.
“If we do a couple of more things maybe we could potentially be 90-plus,” the Mets owner said Tuesday.
A few hours later it was revealed the Nationals had reached a six-year, $140 million agreement with Patrick Corbin. So take these simulated win totals with caution. In part because the Mets had a mid-80-or-better internal projection last year before their 77-win splash of reality.
But mainly because they were a fourth-place team in the NL East and the clubs ahead of them are not exactly sitting idly, letting the Mets play catch-up. The Nationals are enlisting Corbin to join Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the rotation after Washington already added two catchers and two relievers this offseason. The division-champ Braves obtained former AL MVP Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann with designs on further upgrades. Like the Mets, the Phillies did their own Mariners trade, for Jean Segura, with eyes still on Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and others.
Brodie Van Wagenen has picked a difficult road — to not use his honeymoon grace period to assess and plot for the long term. Instead, he is trying to change the culture, notably by motivating ownership not to wither into a cocoon of fear and frugality. Instead, he is arguing for boldness, aggression and 2019 contention. But he is doing that within an offseason when the best teams in the NL are playing top this.
Yet, once in this game you have to keep going. The Cano/Diaz acquisitions really force the Mets to stay relentlessly on improving for next year. Because you don’t add a 36-year-old second baseman coming off of an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, add a win-now closer and $63 million in payroll, subtract two of your best prospects and then stop. Not when those three teams ahead of you are in full-go mode.
“We did not make this move to make this our last move,” Van Wagenen said.
Van Wagenen indicated the acquisitions of Cano/Diaz makes it less likely the Mets will trade Noah Syndergaard, whom he described as “critical to what we are trying to do now.” Which is win in 2019. And it seems the front office has determined it would be less appetizing to trade the righty for pieces it likes and find a starter replacement in free agency than to keep Syndergaard and try to upgrade around him.
And Van Wagenen continues to think big, try to convince the owners not to cede the best players to other large-market clubs and the city to the Yankees. He continues to call Cleveland on Corey Kluber — imagine a super rotation with Kluber, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler — and the Marlins on J.T. Realmuto. As the trade with Seattle underscored, Van Wagenen was willing to include prospects and take on bad money to get his hands on players he desires.
It would seem there would be no way to land Kluber or Realmuto without including some pieces from among Andres Gimenez, Peter Alonso, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil — and a source told The Post that Nimmo has at least been floated as a possibility in a package for Realmuto.
One way to potentially lower the cost in trade collateral is — as with Cano — take on a significant portion of a contract a team wants to escape. The Indians still owe Jason Kipnis $17 million. The Marlins owe Martin Prado $15 million and — depending on options vesting — Wei-Yin Chen either two years at $42 million or three years at $58 million.
If, for example, the Mets had to include Nimmo in a trade, they could sign, say, Marwin Gonzalez to play a corner-outfield spot until Yoenis Cespedes returns then have Gonzalez play regularly around the diamond. Van Wagenen stressed one reason the Mets have not won in recent years is too many “ifs” — if this guy is healthy or if that guy plays well. He would like to form a versatile roster with guys such as McNeil and perhaps Gonzalez to make the team more bulletproof.
In this buildup, Van Wagenen seems to have a willing ownership, at least for now. Wilpon, for the first time publicly, said the club would be willing to spend money recouped from insurance on Cespedes and David Wright rather than treat their full salaries as spent money. The Mets owner also talked about still adding a reliever, catcher, utilityman and perhaps a center fielder. That means swelling payroll further.
As Tuesday revealed, the Mets really can’t stop. They introduced Cano/Diaz and a few hours later the Nationals had Corbin. Those 90-win projections are a theory. The reality is the Mets are surrounded by divisional foes getting better — so they had better, too.