By keeping his best talent and replacing his No. 5 starter with an ace, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen signaled to his players, Mets fans and all of baseball that he believes his team can still find its way into the 2019 postseason.
If there is a shot at winning around 35 of their remaining 55 games, it will be because the new Fab Five of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz consistently pitch to their potential.
"I was praying we didn't trade any of those guys that we're being rumored about," Stroman said late Wednesday. "I actually think we can have the best staff in all of baseball."
The Mets also need to continue taking advantage by their schedule. To date, according to five different sites, the Mets have played the sixth-most difficult schedule in the National League. However, they have the sixth-easiest schedule the rest of the way.
The Nationals are the only other Wild Card-contending team with an easier schedule than the Mets.
The Mets are currently in the middle of a 28-game stretch that includes 22 games against teams under .500, all of which concludes three weeks from now. They're showing they can beat these lesser teams. If they keep it up, it's quite possible they are around 64-62 at the end of this run. If that happens, they should be within striking distance of the Wild Card with more games at home (where they've played well) than on the road. If they reach that point and the rotation is firing on all cylinders, Van Wagenen is correct -- anything is possible...
The Mets are 12-5 since the All-Star break. In that time, they have gone from 10 games under .500 to three games under .500 and from six losses back to four losses back of the final Wild Card spot.
Marcus Stroman replacing Jason Vargas should help continue this trend.
The problem is that during the same time frame, while the pitching staff has improved, the offense continues to struggle -- having scored the third fewest runs in the National League.
So, the minute Van Wagenen realized he would be keeping his roster together, he should have done his best to add at least one consistent hitter and one fresh, experienced, relief pitcher.
"We felt like getting the starting pitcher in this market place was going to be more valuable than getting the relief pitchers," Van Wagenen said Wednesday. "Our bullpen has had its challenges at times, but we believe in the guys that are there, and we're glad that we can go forward with the team we had. Short version, we prioritized the starting pitcher over the bullpen."
Van Wagenen is right in that the Mets have an incredible rotation that should help Mickey Callaway rely less on the bullpen. However, in recent summers, it has not cost very much to add relievers at the deadline.
For instance, in the National League East alone, the Nationals added Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland, while the Braves added Shane Greene and Mark Melancon.
I'll concede that the Mets have seen an improvement from their bullpen since mid-July, during which they have the third-best ERA. They may have just the ninth-best FIP, but even that is way up from how they pitched the entire first half of the season.
The recent uptick in the bullpen is due largely to Seth Lugo, who has been terrific all season; Justin Wilson, who has pitched well since being activated in early July; Robert Gsellman, who has been his normal, consistent self; Edwin Diaz had been pitching well all month until struggling on Tuesday night. That said, it's difficult to imagine Van Wagenen would have struggled to add at least one more pitcher to his staff considering more than 16 relievers were dealt Wednesday to new teams.
In terms of adding offense, the biggest hole and best place for an upgrade has always been the outfield.
Nick Castellanos and Corey Dickerson were both dealt on Wednesday and both of whom would have upgraded Van Wagenen's lineup, despite neither player currently lighting the league on fire.
To get Castellanos, the Cubs sent to Detroit two so-so pitching prospects -- Paul Richan and Single-A pitcher Alex Lange, whose projections aren't glowing.
In return for Dickerson, the Phillies sent to Detroit just international cash and a player to be named later.
For whatever reason, the Jays held on to middle infielder Freddy Galvis, who would have been a major upgrade to the Mets' infield defense, while continuing to pick up extra-base hits. Galvis is a free agent at the end of this season, so it stands to reason he could have been had, which Van Wagenen had to know given the fact that he acquired Stroman from Toronto earlier in the week.
In the end, "We ultimately weren't interested in rental players. We were interested in moves that could impact us in 2019, but also in 2020," Van Wagenen said regarding short-term additions. "Marcus was our focus, we were able to reach closure on that earlier rather than later, and it allowed us to really be in a position of strength."
That's fair. However, while I may not like the idea of further thinning the organization's farm system, in the wake of trading away four of their best prospects in the last year, there's little reason why trading a few less-exciting prospects should be a problem if it means bolstering a team he believes can contend this year.
The point is, the Mets -- who have 14 pitchers in their top 30 prospects -- should have had no problem getting in on acquiring a a reliever and a hitter, be it Castellanos, Dickerson or someone else.
They didn't, though, and here we are watching them play a favorable schedule with an elite rotation talented enough to string together multiple winning streaks; an offense in need of one addition, but more in need of Jeff McNeil staying on the field and Pete Alonso returning to his first-half form; and a bullpen showing signs of hope, but also in need or support. The whole thing could go either way, frankly, but that is the fun of baseball -- especially when rooting for a New York team that will need to pull off a miracle to reach October.
Thankfully, I'm used to all of the above. I know how to handle second-half roller coasters. And while I'm eager to see the Mets one day become a perennial winner, I will always have fun watching them navigate a wild, dramatic, risky playoff push. And like Van Wagenen, I believe that is exactly what we're going to get from now through the end of September...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!