Daniel Mengden began this season with a 2.91 ERA in his first 12 starts with a .606 OPS against.
In case you don’t know, Mengden plays for the A’s.
Also, those results look similar to what Zack Wheeler has produced over the last 11 starts — 3.20 ERA with a .589 OPS against.
Mengden followed with an 11.57 ERA in four starts and a 1.222 OPS against, sprained his foot and when he healed, he was optioned to the minors.
Within a major league season, there will be snapshots of success even by players who are ordinary or worse. And if what Wheeler is going through is just one of those snapshots, then the Mets would have wasted great opportunity — they would have fooled the worst team of all yet again: themselves.
No question may resonate out of this trade deadline more than this: Did the Mets rightly retain all of their big starters to try to contend in 2019 or did they misplay a market in which contenders were crying out for big starters? Think of the starters as stocks. Their value has never been higher, and yet the Mets did not cash in those stocks.
Instead, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and even Steven Matz were never really made available. The Mets listened on Wheeler. But the Mets valued him based on those 11 starts while the industry assessed a big picture beset by injury and inconsistency.
Mets ownership wants to disbelieve the last two years when the Mets have had the NL’s second-worst record. They want to see a contender built around that rotation in 2019. They want to believe Wheeler has morphed from disappointment to quality No. 3 starter. They used those hopes and dreams to deal nothing more than Jeurys Familia and Asdrubal Cabrera for the kinds of returns they got last year for Addison Reed, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda and Neil Walker — which is to say, probably not much more than organizational depth.
Assistant GM John Ricco said the Mets can always revisit trading a starter in the offseason when, in theory, they will have a permanent successor to Sandy Alderson. But Orioles GM Dan Duquette, in the last year of his contract and with no job security, was empowered to trade Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day (plus Adam Jones, who used his 10-and-5 rights to turn down advances) for 14 prospects, $2.75 million in international slot money and Jonathan Villar.
Plus, it is hard to believe the Mets starters’ values will ever be higher than in July 2018.
And worst of all would be if suddenly Wheeler is some version of Mengden and the Mets missed the last best chance to capitalize on a guy who even two months ago they would have had difficulty giving away.
Beyond the hold-versus-sell decision for the Mets, here are the other big competitions that arose for this deadline:
J.A. Happ vs. Cole Hamels vs. Nathan Eovaldi: The Yankees could have had Hamels and never really felt they were serious with Tampa Bay for Eovaldi, and landed Happ while Eovaldi went to the Red Sox and Hamels to the Cubs. Happ and Eovaldi were scheduled to face each other Saturday at Fenway. Though Happ contracted hand, foot and mouth disease, GM Brian Cashman said he could still make that start. Still, the AL East could come down to which team did best here.
The AL super powers vs. each other: The Astros, Red Sox and Yankees have pretty much spent the season with the majors’ three best records and did not stop trying to improve. Step 1 is to win a division, and while we have focused a lot on the Red Sox-Yankees AL East competition, the Astros’ seemingly inevitable AL West title is at least threatened by the relentless Mariners and A’s.
Houston addressed its catching defense with Martin Maldonado and late-game relief with Ryan Pressly. But the Astros also added Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna. He is a huge talent. But does he threaten the ecosystem of what has been a good clubhouse? Lance McCullers and Justin Verlander have both made strong public comments against domestic abuse, and now Houston will try to incorporate a player still serving a suspension for violating MLB’s domestic-abuse protocols.
The Astros did not get the left fielder they wanted, the Red Sox did not get one more reliever and the Yankees did not get an outfielder to bridge while Aaron Judge recuperates. But they all bulked up for the regular season and playoffs.
Zach Britton vs. Brad Hand: The two lefties were probably the most desired relievers in the market. Hand and Adam Cimber went to the Indians, whose length of pitching will make them a tough out in the combative AL playoffs. The Yanks did not go for Hand and control for the next season, but, as with Happ and Lance Lynn, took a walk-year piece in Britton. Is he truly all the way back from his Achilles tear?
Chris Archer’s reputation vs. reality: The Pirates were better from 2013-15, yet held tight to prospects, frittering away a rare opportunity for them. This year they made the biggest deal of deadline day, landing Archer for mainly Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, two guys they had shielded from years of requests.
Archer will upgrade the 2018 rotation and is signed for three years at $27 million (options included) from 2019-2021. Is he a change-of-scenery guy? Archer has terrific stuff and has generally been sturdy, but his ERA since 2016 is 4.10.
A crowded NL vs. each other: Through Monday, none of the three division leaders had more than a one-game lead, and there were eight clubs either in wild-card position or within 5 ¹/₂ games.
Many acted on deadline day to further bulk up. I was particularly struck by the Dodgers deepening an already lengthy, versatile lineup with Brian Dozier and the Diamondbacks adding to an already strong pen with Jake Diekman and Brad Ziegler.
Yet, the biggest news of a deadline day that was mostly star-deprived was the Nationals deciding not to deal Bryce Harper and trying to salvage a disappointing season in the cluttered NL around their nucleus.
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