Zack Scott’s big opportunity
Breaking down a huge win & going deep on the trade deadline
The Mets completed a stirring 5-4 victory over Toronto yesterday that required every baseball ingredient you can imagine: clutch hitting, solid starting pitching, strong defense and big-time relief. They took a three-game set against a dangerous team, and welcomed a new starter, Rich Hill, into the fold.
We’ll catch you up on all the day’s news — including an analysis of this final week before the trade deadline, likely the best remaining shot for acting GM Zack Scott to make his mark this season.
But first, let’s recap yesterday’s action.
⚾️ IN SHORT: Newest (yet also oldest) Met Rich Hill kept the impressive Blue Jays lineup in check twice through the order, until he started to run out of gas in the 6th. Pete Alonso stayed hot, with a game-tying 2-run homer in the 6th, and pinch hitter Jeff McNeil put the Mets ahead for good with a 2-run double off former Met Jacob Barnes. Seth Lugo and Jeurys Familia each threw a scoreless inning, Trevor May had an adventurous 8th before getting some help from Aaron Loup, and Edwin Diaz closed it out for the thrilling 5-4 win.
🔑 KEY MOMENT: Barnes entered the bottom of the 6th with 2 outs and no one on, and promptly walked JD Davis and gave up a single to Jonathan Villar. While clearly not sharp, the 3-batter rule meant that the righty had to stay in against pinch hitter McNeil, who’d drive a full count pitch to the right field wall, putting the Mets ahead for good.
❶ ALL ABOARD THE POLAR BEAR EXPRESS: Following his star turn at the home run derby, Alonso is starting to look like the type of offensive star capable of carrying an entire team for a stretch. After yet another clutch 2-run home yesterday, Alonso is hitting .368 since the all-star break with 5 HR and 10 RBI.
❷ McNEIL’S CLUTCH PINCH HIT: After after missing 2 games with leg fatigue, McNeil picked right up where he left off, needing just one at-bat to keep his 12-game hitting streak alive. He’s now 15-for-43 over those 12 games and is batting .328 so far this month. And credit Luis Rojas for having him hit for Tomas Nido with the game on the line. It paid off big time.
❸ HILL STRONG TWICE THROUGH LINEUP: For 5 innings, Hill kept a very strong lineup in check (and off the scoreboard) by mixing up his off-speed pitches and keeping hitters off balance. Rojas can be forgiven — this time — for looking at the scoreboard and low pitch count (50 after 5) and deciding to let Hill pitch into the 6th. The Mets would be well-advised to stick with the formula that worked for Hill with the Rays and Dodgers: he provides the team with a wise veteran presence in the rotation capable of getting big outs — as long as he’s not asked to go much more than five innings (or a third time through the order).
💎 WEB GEM: Tomas Nido was a beast behind the plate, first nailing George Springer trying to steal third, and then… this:
🧑🏫 SOUND SMART: Speaking of McNeil’s hitting streak, Moises Alou, brother of Mets Manager Luis Rojas, has the longest one in Mets history, at 30 games (2007).
⏭ NEXT UP: The Mets start a crucial five-game series against the Braves with a doubleheader today. Marcus Stroman will pitch the first game, and the old standby (“TBD”) is currently slated for Game 2, likely to be a bullpen effort.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Atlanta will look to put a dent in the Mets’ lead in the standings, as they decide where they stand heading into the trade deadline. This is the last time the two division rivals will play each other until the final series of the season in Atlanta.
📈 STANDINGS: The Mets are now 52-44, four games ahead of Philadelphia, and five ahead of Atlanta.
🍎 HELP ON THE WAY? Carlos Carrasco made his second rehab start for Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday, and it was a major success. Cookie scattered no runs in three innings, while racking up six strikeouts. It looks like he will officially join the Mets’ rotation for his next turn.
🤞 PROGRESS: Jacob deGrom threw off a mound on Sunday for the first time since shutting things down last week. There’s still no word on a possible return date. He was originally eligible to come off the 10-Day IL on Sunday. The hope is he can be back by “early August,” which basically means a week or two from today.
🦶 FREAK INJURY: You would think the one place a Mets player is safe from getting injured is when they are already on the injured list, but this team never seizes to amaze, as news broke this weekend that starter David Peterson broke his foot while walking through the clubhouse on Friday. He will require surgery.
TIMELINE: Already shelved until at least mid-August with a right oblique strain, the Mets won’t provide an updated timeline for his return until after surgery (he was transferred to the 60-Day IL), but it’s possible we won’t see the tall left-hander again this season.
🤕 RANDOM: Speaking of random injuries, right-hander Stephen Nogosek was placed on the 10-Day IL (retroactive to July 21) on Saturday due to a sore shoulder. He threw 48 pitches last Tuesday, which is the most he has thrown in an outing since 2017 (h/t Tim Healey).
ROSTER MOVES: The Mets called up infielder Brandon Drury and optioned right-hander Nick Tropeano. Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff elected free agency after being designated for assignment.
🦵LEG INJURY: Jeff McNeil had been missing from the lineup since Wednesday, battling a “fatigued left leg.” But as noted above, he came back to pinch hit yesterday, in a very big way.
⚾️ MINOR TRADE: The Mets acquired outfielder Mark Payton from the Reds for cash. Payton had been designated for assignment, so the Mets sent $75,000 to ensure they could grab him before he went through the waiver wire.
DEPTH: The 29-year-old, who only has 44 career plate appearances in the bigs, gives the team outfield depth after losing Johneshwy Fargas last week to the Cubs. Payton was added to the 40-man roster after Pederson was transferred to the 60-Day IL. He was sent to Triple-A Syracuse.
🎢 DEBUT: Top prospect J.T. Ginn made his High-A debut for the Brooklyn Cyclones on Friday and tossed 5.2 impressive innings of one-run ball, striking out six, while hitting 94 mph on the radar gun.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL: While it’s unclear who is really available, or how much it would take to trade for any of these players, the Twins have several intriguing trade targets, from starter José Berríos (more on him below), to 3B Josh Donaldson, to reliever Taylor Rogers. Talented — but often injured — outfielder Byron Buxton could also be available, after he declined an extension offer over the weekend. But the Mets are arguably in less need of outfield help.
Trade Deadline: Preview & Analysis
by Blake Zeff
With Friday the deadline for all baseball trades to be made this season (the “waiver” trade deadline of old no longer exists), we’ll be following every development closely in this space. While the Mets have been linked to big bats like Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson, consider these numbers posted over the month of July:
Could the team use more offense? Sure. Of course. But given limited resources and focus, it’s hard to dispute that acting GM Zack Scott’s squad needs pitching a lot more. Robert Stock and Jerad Eickhoff have started games recently. Anthony Banda and Stephen Nogosek have pitched crucial innings. No offense to them — they’re a lot better than I am — but this is not ideal for a contender. With the health of Jacob deGrom and Carlos Carrasco not 100 percent certain, David Peterson possibly out for the season, Eickhoff designated for assignment and Stock and Nogosek injured, the club doesn’t even know who’s starting game 2 today — and that’s after acquiring Rich Hill.
With that in mind, here are some interesting deadline arms to consider:
❶ MAX SCHERZER (Nationals)
If the NL All-Star starting pitcher (and impending free agent) will actually be made available by trade — itself questionable, as Washington isn’t known for throwing in the towel, especially after its surprise renaissance in 2019 — the odds of him headed to a division rival are tiny. But SNY’s Andy Martino reported late last night that the Mets will inquire about him… and what if their package is clearly the best?
Are other teams willing to offer Washington a stud prospect like Ronny Mauricio in return for a two (hopefully three) month rental? We’ll see. But consider the Mets’ point of view: Shortstop will be occupied for the next decade, so Mauricio won’t be playing the position in Queens. And the organization is now loaded at 3B (Mauricio’s potential secondary position) with Brett Baty and Mark Vientos raking in AA.
Let’s face it: Mauricio is likely to be moved at some point; it may just be about finding the right deal. And if he’s healthy, Scherzer is a mad-man competitor and generational talent worth spending that bullet on. Imagine a playoff rotation of deGrom, Scherzer, Carrasco, Stroman. At that point, I guess you have some combination of Walker, Megill and Hill (plus maybe Noah) joining the already-formidable pen (which could also solve the “do we trust Edwin Diaz to close out Game 7” conundrum)? Goodness.
❷ JOSÉ BERRÍOS (Twins)
Realistically, Berríos may be the best starting pitcher actually available to the Mets on the market right now. As opposed to other trade candidates like, say, Kyle Gibson, he’s not flukily putting up a career year that could end any minute. He’s a perennial #2 or 3 starter for a contender, who’s doing it again and instantly gives you insurance in case front-of-the-rotation types like deGrom (no rehab date scheduled yet), Carrasco (no MLB pitches thrown in 2021 yet), Noah Syndergaard (no rehab date scheduled yet), or Taijuan Walker (has already thrown more innings than his prior three seasons combined) are unable to meet their scheduled starts.
What would it cost? Well, remember Berrios is controllable (arbitration eligible) for 2022 as well, meaning you’re getting more than a mere rental. According to some reports, a team might have to take on third baseman Josh Donaldson’s contract (covering 2021-2023) as part of a package deal. He’s still putting up solid numbers, but that’s a high cost.
❸ CALEB SMITH (Diamondbacks)
Arizona is having a miserable season and you’d expect them to be in rebuilding mode. Still, Smith isn’t an obvious trade candidate, as he’s having a seemingly horrible season (3-7, 4.61 ERA) and is eligible for arbitration for two more years. But if Arizona can get a decent prospect or two here, would they consider it?
Here’s the upside to Smith: He shouldn’t cost a ton, and was pitching to a 3.08 ERA with solid peripherals until two bad starts this month ballooned his ERA and WHIP (he since had a dominant outing last week against Pittsburgh, before surrendering 5 runs over 6 innings to the Cubs yesterday).
He’s a lefty who, like Hill, can plug a hole in the rotation as needed but also work out of the bullpen (as he did for Arizona much of this season, suggesting they may not value him too highly) when other starters return. Many readers will remember that when Smith was a Marlin not long ago, he was impressive, fanning 168 in 2019 while putting up a 1.226 WHIP. Still just 29, he could be a useful piece for a few years — but ultimately, the Mets’ acquisition of Rich Hill may make Smith less useful this season. Speaking of which…
❹ RICH HILL (Rays to Mets)
Obviously, the Mets acquired Hill on Friday — but believe it or not, he was going to be on this list before that. In a nutshell, here’s why to like this deal: The Mets gave up practically nothing for Hill, and he still knows how to pitch. Is he the same unhittable, big-time playoff starter who made NL hitters look silly for years in Los Angeles? Probably not. Is he better than the likes of Eickhoff and Stock? There’s no question. At this point, the 41-year-old is likely what you saw yesterday (nothing more or less): a smart veteran and gutsy competitor who can give you five quality innings, even against the better teams. That plugs a major hole for this team.
Obviously, this list is far from exhaustive. Feel free to put in the comments which players you’d like to see the Mets pursue. And bonus points for suggesting who they’d have to give up!
⚾️ The Padres are reportedly acquiring 2B-OF Adam Frazier from the Pirates for prospects Tucupita Marcano, Michell Miliano and Jake Suwinski.
🔗 How the Mets’ Pete Alonso found his vintage form — and his power stroke, by Rustin Dodd, The Athletic ($): “With 22 homers, Alonso is now just eight behind the National League leader, San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr., which is all the more amazing considering he had just 11 homers on June 27. Alonso leads all of baseball with 11 homers since (and another 74 in the Home Run Derby). For a month, he has resembled the hitter that finished with a rookie-record 53 homers in 2019. Since the All-Star break, he is batting .368 while piecing together a nine-game hitting streak. The performance has lifted a lineup that totaled just 88 homers before the All-Star break and buoyed a clubhouse awaiting the return of Jacob deGrom and an injury-ravaged starting rotation.”
🔗 Mets feeding off larger-than-life Pete Alonso, by Ian O’Connor, NY Post: “Pete Alonso declared himself the best power hitter on the planet at the Home Run Derby, and for fans outside of New York, that might have sounded like prototypical big-city arrogance. Alonso was not, in fact, leading the majors in home runs. He was not, in fact, even selected to play in the All-Star Game. But he was a two-time derby champ and, of greater consequence, a proud representative of a franchise that could often use the swagger in a market controlled by the storied franchise next door.”
And… we leave you with a preview of the Mets back in black (coming on Friday):
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