Since losing to the San Francisco Giants on the 21st July, the New York Mets are the hottest team in baseball, winning 13 of their last 15 games and muscling their way into the heart of an intense National League wildcard race.
The Mets stunned baseball when they acquired Marcus Stroman in the lead up to the trade deadline. Their following decisions to move Jason Vargas and retain free-agent-to-be Zack Wheeler were met with raised eyebrows and scepticism. New York’s performance over the last two weeks or so has immediately justified Brodie Van Wagenen’s decisions.
Opting to keep Wheeler – particularly when prospect return was unlikely to be transformative – made sense, especially with how well the Mets had been playing. Knowing they were rolling out a rotation of Wheeler, Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz must have been an incredible clubhouse boost as August began.
As is so often the case with a red-hot team, good performances become contagious. Contributions are coming from all over the line-up. Amed Rosario is enjoying the best offensive production of his career, posting a .940 OPS in July and continuing at a similar rate in the opening games of August. Michael Conforto is hitting the cover off the ball. Pete Alonso continues to slug at an historic rate – he’s going to cruise past the Mets’ franchise single-season home run record. J.D. Davis has been downright monstrous, owning a 1.017 OPS in July and improving on that in August. Jeff McNeil continues to be brilliant.
These players had this sort of upside. At the start of the year, the Mets looked like playing this level of baseball – then they added All-Star Stroman. Van Wagenen banked on his team finding something in the second half, he banked on good health and his rotation finding consistency. It looks like that gamble – which wasn’t as big a risk as some may suggest – is paying off.
All Van Wagenen risked by doing this was the prospect return for Wheeler. That trade wasn’t going to make a notable difference to the farm, but the psychological impact, and being able to run with a rotation this dominant, has made a notable difference to the team in 2019 and may well do in 2020.
The young position player core, which includes currently injured Brandon Nimmo, is set. Nimmo, Alonso, Conforto, Rosario, Davis and McNeil have all either previously proved themselves in the Majors or are doing so right now. The starting staff is as good as any in the Major Leagues with four of them set to be on the 2020 Opening Day roster.
While the Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz trade hasn’t worked out for the Mets yet (Diaz deserves more time) and the Jeurys Familia and Jed Lowrie signings haven’t been good, Van Wagenen deserves praise. Davis was a shrewd pick up, Stroman was a bargain and keeping Wheeler could turn out to be a masterstroke whether they make the playoffs or not. The way the Mets are playing right now could set the tone for the organisation into 2020 and beyond; that’s invaluable.