As badly as the Mets want to contend in 2019, they face a stark reality that runs right up against their recent history:
They have more dollars than talent to spare.
While rookie general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has ardently pursued trade discussions with the Marlins regarding All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto — Van Wagenen’s former client — the Mets haven’t come close to a match because of Miami’s asking price of, in the words of an official from another interested team, “two top guys.”
Brandon Nimmo as a centerpiece wouldn’t necessarily cut it, in other words, unless he was accompanied by another high-ceiling talent who is at least close to major-league ready.
The Mets don’t want to trade shortstop Amed Rosario or minor-league first baseman Peter Alonso, both of whom would fit such a category. The same goes for Michael Conforto, though his service time (three-plus years, just one less than Realmuto) makes him less appealing to the Marlins, anyway.
So the Mets remain very engaged on the catching free-agent front, where Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos and Martin Maldonado top the field. And where the Mets’ sting will occur is in their wallets rather than their already suspect organizational roster depth.
The 30-year-old Grandal, likely to get paid the highest of this group, would give the Mets an above-average bat who switch hits. While he fell into such a severe October defensive funk that the Dodgers started him behind the plate in only one of their five World Series games, his defensive metrics have been consistently positive throughout his career.
Maldonado, 32, will cost considerably less than Grandal and won’t provide much thump with the bat. What he does offer is excellence with his glove, his brain as a battery mate and his arm. He threw out 17-of-35 base stealers last year, a stellar 49 percent, and is at 38 percent for his career.
The 31-year-old Ramos offers a strong bat and excellent reputation as a teammate, yet his best fit might be the AL, where he can contribute as a designated hitter, as he did for the Rays the past two seasons.
With the Mets’ 2019 budget vague yet limited enough that Van Wagenen conceded to WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Wednesday that a pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado was very unlikely, they might not have payroll room to sign the pricey Grandal (who should easily get eight figures per year for multiple seasons) and then still acquire another high-end reliever and everyday outfielder.
The Mets have been in touch with the representatives for free-agent lefty Andrew Miller, who worked with Mets manager Mickey Callaway for a season and a half in Cleveland, and Zach Britton, who pitched most recently for the Yankees. Van Wagenen stressed the team’s need for a lefty in the bullpen.
On the outfield front, Van Wagenen has acknowledged contact with the agent for A.J. Pollock, a righty-hitting center fielder also very likely to draw an eight-figure salary.
As free agents who turned down qualifying offers, Grandal and Pollock each would cost the Mets their second-highest pick in the 2019 draft — if both signed, in other words, the Mets would forfeit their second- and third-round selections — as well as $500,000 of their international signing bonus pool.
At a time when they already sacrificed a pair of highly regarded prospects (Justin Dunn and Jarred Kelenic) in order to land Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, how much more of their future are the Mets willing to surrender in return for a present run? Given Van Wagenen’s all-in pledges and actions, we’ll find out sooner than later.
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