WASHINGTON — Add it to the all-time “That’s so #Mets” files. Of course, hours after sticking with their roller-coaster starting rotation at the non-waivers trade deadline, the Mets suffered the worst loss of their franchise history Tuesday night, 25-4 to the Nationals at Nationals Park, with Jose Reyes’ pitching debut — six runs allowed in one inning! — capping an epically inept performance
This one won’t be forgotten, ever; Mickey Callaway properly called it “embarrassing.” Actually, the Mets should hope that this game, and not what preceded it, will be recalled as the day’s most embarrassing development. The key to that might very well come in the identity of the Mets’ next general manager.
The Mets’ quiet deadline day passed with an obvious takeaway: After neither acting boldly leading up to Tuesday’s cutoff point nor speaking boldly after it, this club had better find itself one heck of a GM for 2019 if it wants to contend.
“I think all that happened today is we did not make a trade by the trade deadline,” assistant general manager John Ricco said Tuesday in a conference call. “It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re headed into one direction or the other [on the starting rotation]. We’ll make a more informed decision this offseason.”
The Mets’ three-headed interim GM committee of Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi — how about we call them the Minaya Trois? — all joined the call in an apparent attempt to present a unified front under the Wilpons and Saul Katz. This probably wasn’t necessary; their limited actions, trading walk-year guys Asdrubal Cabrera (to the Phillies) and Jeurys Familia (A’s) while holding onto everyone else, spoke loudly enough to the situation. These guys look like caretakers in the wake of Sandy Alderson’s medical leave until someone gets the full-time job this fall.
All along, the Mets didn’t want to deal ace Jacob deGrom, who is under team control through 2020. Noah Syndergaard’s two visits to the disabled list damaged his trade value. And the better Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler pitched under the first-year manager/pitching coach duo of Callaway and Dave Eiland, the more the Mets leaned toward retaining them.
(Matz promptly rewarded his employers for their faith by lasting just two-thirds of an inning and allowing seven runs, setting forth the cavalcade of pitching whimsy that culminated with Reyes’ struggles.)
This coming winter, Ricco argued, the Mets can engage 29 teams on their assets, and they’re more likely to get major league talent in return. Agreed on receiving major league talent, yet the market also grows far more crowded come Hot Stove time with the inclusion of free agents and every team open to buying and selling. The Rays’ tremendous return from the Pirates on Tuesday for Chris Archer, a decidedly inferior pitcher to deGrom, exemplified just how badly 2018 contenders wanted frontline starters. It’s hard to envision deGrom’s value climbing any higher than it stood on Tuesday.
So what’ll it be next? A spending spree to support deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz and Wheeler and provide cover while the Mets rebuild their farm system? Recent history leans heavily toward no. A winter sell-off? Not with Ricco saying, “We want to contend next year.”
Hence the onus turns to the new GM, be it one of the Minaya Trois or more likely an outsider. This person must thrive at arbitrage like Alderson didn’t in an organization dying for more athleticism and defense, attributes that both Callaway and Ricciardi mentioned on Tuesday. He or she must be willing to manage up in order to mitigate the Wilpons’ meddling. The farm system must get better, only not at the expense of the big-league team. And a call must be made on Callaway.
Does this constitute a unicorn GM? The optimist proposes that baseball has never featured a smarter talent pool and the Mets, their obvious shortcomings notwithstanding, can find someone good. The pessimist counters that if even Alderson, who probably will be featured on a Hall of Fame ballot someday, can achieve only temporary success, then it’s a sucker’s gig.
Whoever it is will take over following an organizational punt. How deftly can this GM-to-be deal with challenging field position? It’s a far more important question than how the players recover from this drubbing.
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