In the final fortnight before the trade deadline, the competitive landscape clarifies. By this point last season, the Nationals and Cubs knew their early-season performance was not going to be sustainable and that change was imminent. The two teams dominated the trade deadline marketplace.
But it isn’t always perfectly transparent — not yet. On this date in 2015, the Tigers and Mets had almost exactly the same playoff odds, according to FanGraphs. Ten days later, Yoenis Céspedes went from Detroit to Queens; one team entered a rebuild that’s still ongoing, the other went to the World Series. (The Tigers went from being in the middle of the buy/sell dynamic to dealing Céspedes and David Price and dismissing long-time president Dave Dombrowski in about two weeks.)
Which is to say, the Mets shouldn’t only be scouring the rosters of the teams long positioned to sell by Aug. 2. (And they can spare some time from contemplating what Juan Soto would look like in royal pinstripes, a topic I promise we’ll discuss in depth soon.) They can find useful players on other rosters who may soon be available, by virtue of a team’s precarious playoff position or financial context. So let’s get creative. Where else might the Mets be looking for help in the next two weeks?
The Mets declined comment on potential interest in any of these options. However, an industry source consider these concepts realistic.
Boston Red Sox
Current playoff odds (according to FanGraphs): 38.2 percent
Opening Day playoff odds: 61.3 percent
Peak playoff odds: 80.7 percent (June 30)
Few teams this season have seen their postseason odds undulate as much as the Red Sox; Only Boston and the Angels have had their odds sit below 20 percent and above 80 percent on different days this year. The Sox are in a downturn of late — one that will lead its brass to question how worthwhile it is to push more chips into the pot for 2022. Boston is 12-26 in its own division, having yet to win a single series from an AL East opponent. It has big decisions coming up on Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers.
The target: JD Martinez
An All-Star again this season with a .302/.368/.481 slash line and an .849 OPS, Martinez would fit the bill as a power-hitting DH to slot right next to Pete Alonso in the New York lineup. The 34-year-old is in his walk year, and he did pretty well the last time he was traded in a walk year, mashing 29 homers in 62 games for the 2017 Diamondbacks. The Tigers’ return for Martinez that summer was notoriously light, and the Mets would probably have to give up more for two months of a 34-year-old Martinez than Arizona did for him at 29. That still wouldn’t mean a top- tier prospect like Javier Báez required last summer, but the return would have to be good enough to coax Boston into giving up on the season. Perhaps taking on the contract of Matt Barnes, owed more than $13 million through the end of next season, would help persuade the Sox. Dominic Smith, whose swing has long profiled as a fit at Fenway Park, could prove useful for a team still shuffling through its options at first base.
San Francisco Giants
Current playoff odds: 52.8 percent
Opening Day playoff odds: 48.3 percent
Peak playoff odds: 79.0 percent (May 13)
While April felt like a continuation of last regular season’s fairy tale, the Giants have regressed to the mean over the last three months. They’re two games under .500 since May 1, with three different losing streaks of at least five games. At the moment, the field for the National League wild card isn’t deep or compelling enough to convince San Francisco to sell off its biggest walk-year assets. But one more five-game losing streak in the next two weeks could push the Giants toward recouping some prospects and prepping for 2023.
The targets: Joc Pederson and/or Wilmer Flores
Pederson would be an excellent fit for the Mets, as he’s returned to crushing right-handed pitchers — a lesson the Mets learned well in late May by the Bay. His chief weakness, that he’s more or less unplayable against lefties, can be mitigated by some of the Mets’ current options, like JD Davis or prospect Mark Vientos.
Or, even, by another of Pederson’s teammates and a favorite fan in Queens. Flores, somehow, is still just 30 years old. While he’s not the guy you trade to play every day at DH hitting fifth, he has started 73 games for San Francisco at four different spots (first base, second base, third base and DH). He could be a jack of all trades for the Mets down the stretch, whether it be platooning with Pederson or serving as a righty-hitting caddie to Luis Guillorme’s utility role. (The Mets’ bench has often leaned too far to the left, limiting late-game pinch-hitting options.)
Pederson is going to cost a lot more to acquire this summer than he did last. The price for Flores, meanwhile, shouldn’t be prohibitive, and the Giants may not need to completely fall out of the race to consider moving him.
San Diego Padres
Current playoff odds: 76.9 percent
Opening Day Playoff Odds: 75.7 percent
Peak Playoff Odds: 95.1 percent (June 16)
Trajectory: Déjà vu?
No, San Diego is not going to sell; If the postseason began today, the Padres would be a wild card, two clear games of their closest pursuer. But there are two important pieces of context that could illuminate what the Padres do at the deadline. First, their playoff odds right now are lower than they were on this date last year, before a late-season collapse even steeper than the one suffered by the Mets. Second, San Diego is right up against the luxury tax threshold, so any aggressive moves it would want to make to improve its team and avoid a second straight second-half disappointment might require offloading a contract or two.
The target: Blake Snell
That second bit of context — the luxury tax one — is where the Mets could be of service to San Diego. The two squads of course discussed a deal involving Eric Hosmer and Chris Paddack for Dominic Smith back in the spring; Paddack was, dealt to Minnesota where he underwent Tommy John surgery. Although returning to that framework is possible, it’s even harder now for the Padres to offset the $46 million owed Hosmer through 2025 with something appealing to the Mets.
Alternatively, the Mets could take on the $8.5 million owed Wil Myers through the end of the season along with Blake Snell, who’s underperformed expectations since arriving in San Diego and is more expendable with Mike Clevinger back healthy. Trading that pair should allow the Friars to get below the tax threshold to pursue other avenues of improvement, and Snell would be an intriguing project for the Mets who is signed through next season. (Snell would be owed about $4.2 million the rest of this season and $16 million next. He’d count just $10 million against the luxury tax.)
Tampa Bay Rays
Current playoff odds: 70.9 percent
Opening Day playoff odds: 52.7 percent
Peak playoff odds: 74.8 percent (June 9)
Boston’s downturn aids and has been abetted by the Rays, who have won six of seven from the Sox this month to pass them in the standings. Tampa Bay has almost no chance to chase down the Yankees in the AL East, and it sits relatively comfortably in a playoff position, 3 1/2 games better than seventh-place Boston. Maybe that means it’s time for every cost-conscious contender’s favorite summer move: threading the needle.
The target: Ji-Man Choi
Choi has started 61 games for the Rays, almost all of them at first base against right-handed pitching. His OPS against righties is .820. Like Pederson, he has a track record of futility against lefties, though he’s bucking that trend in a small sample this season (13-for-34). While the Rays wouldn’t necessarily be in a rush to deal a regular in Choi, he does fit the profile of players they’ve moved in the past. He’s got one more year of team control after this season, which would be his age-32 season. Tampa Bay has ready-made replacements on the roster for Choi in Yandy Díaz, Isaac Paredes and Harold Ramirez.
Oh, and in Kevin Kiermaier, the Rays have a contract they probably wouldn’t mind moving, given Kiermaier is out into September with a hip injury. The center fielder is owed about $4 million for the final two months of the season, plus at least $2.5 million on a buyout of a $13 million option for 2023. (The Rays are extremely unlikely to exercise that option; the Mets might, especially if They’re concerned about Brandon Nimmo leaving in free agency.) So Tampa Bay could save about $7.5 million in moving Choi with Kiermaier, probably requiring a return of either a toolsy or post-hype prospect who will succeed far more there than anyone with the Mets anticipates. In fact, Smith might not be a bad fit for the Rays.
Los Angeles Angels
Current playoff odds: 1.4 percent
Opening Day playoff odds: 44.7 percent
Peak playoff odds: 81.4 percent (May 15)
Trajectory: Falling faster than Milton’s Satan
So the Angels do fit the role of a traditional seller by now. However, their precipitous fall to earth, from a potential playoff position to a 93-loss pace, could make GM Perry Minasian reconsider the magnitude of that selling. No, that doesn’t mean Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani just yet. But there are some pieces controlled beyond this season that Anaheim might contemplate moving now that contention doesn’t feel around the corner.
The Targets: Aaron Loup and/or Ryan Tepera
A pair of relievers I advocated for the Mets to sign last offseason, neither Loup nor Tepera is having his best season in the first of two-year deals with the Angels. That could provide an opportunity for New York to acquire either with Anaheim eating a small amount of the money.
(Photo of Blake Snell: Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)