Bruce, Cespedes lead best trade options to revitalize Mets' offense
The Mets missed a huge opportunity this week. They entered a three-game set in Washington trailing the first place Nationals by two games but lost two out of three despite throwing their three best starting pitchers—Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard—against a lineup that was missing four of its top five hitters—Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. Wednesday's rubber game was especially painful for New York, as it surrendered three runs in the bottom of the eighth and lost 4-3 to fall three games out in the NL East.
The Mets now head home for a four-game set against another first-place team, NL West-leading Dodgers, hoping against hope to shave a game or two off Washington's lead before their rematch at Citi Field next weekend.
While New York's postseason hopes are still very much alive—it entered the day two games out in the wild-card race—it won't make it back to the playoffs for the first time in nine years without more offense. The Mets rank last in the majors in hits and batting average and last in the National League in runs scored. They plated a total of five runs in their two losses to the Nationals and 12 runs in 27 innings overall in the series—four of which came in the ninth on Tuesday. On the month, New York has scored just 3.1 runs per game, an exact match for the team's scoring rate in June, and since April 26, the Mets have scored just 3.2 runs per game, which is dead last in the majors over that span.
It’s glaringly obvious to anyone watching that New York needs to add a bat to have any chance of hanging with Washington, especially once the Nats get healthy. Washington may have lost a fifth regular, infielder Yunel Escobar on Wednesday; he left the game with a wrist injury.
Here, then, are five pie-in-the-sky targets for the Mets, presented in alphabetical order.
• MORE MLB: Latest trade rumors, news as deadline approaches
Bruce is one of several Reds believed to be on the market now that Cincinnati is buried in the NL Central, 17 games out entering play on Wednesday. He isn’t a player the Reds have to trade, as he has one year plus a club option left on his contract, but he’s one who could be quite valuable because of that remaining team control, which is relatively inexpensive ($12.5 million for 2016 with a $13 million option and $1 million buyout for '17). Furthermore, while Bruce has a non-trade clause blocking deals to eight teams, the Mets are not one of them.
Bruce, who is still just 28, has rebounded nicely from his awful 2014 season to hit .255/.342/.478 (124 OPS+) with 15 home runs entering Wednesday and would be a significant upgrade on the 36-year-old and injured Michael Cuddyer (.250/.303/.380, 90 OPS+) in leftfield. Bruce has hit well against his fellow lefties this year, can spot in center when needed and has not been troubled by Citi Field’s dimensions in his career; he's hit five home runs in 80 plate appearances in Queens, which is a 40-homer pace over a full season.
Yoenis Cespedes, LF, Tigers
The Tigers (46-47, four games out in the AL wild-card race) may be on the fence about selling, but Cespedes seems like the player they’d be most willing to deal. A pending free agent from the strongest part of Detroit’s team—its lineup—Cespedes is enjoying his best season since his rookie year of 2012, hitting .289/.315/.488 (120 OPS+) with 14 homers while playing a strong leftfield. Like Bruce, he’d be a big upgrade on Cuddyer in left, but without having to adjust to a new position.
Cespedes is also already a part of Citi Field lore, having turned in a particularly memorable Home Run Derby performance there in 2013. Best of all, he would be significantly cheaper than Bruce for the cash-strapped Mets, not only because he’d be a two-month rental, but also because his base salary this year is just $10.5 million; he’d only increase the team’s payroll by about $3.5 million.
Hanley Ramirez, LF, Red Sox
This one is far less likely to happen, but consider the reasons why it might. Ramirez’s transition from shortstop to leftfield has been a disaster. It’s clear that he’s not viable out there, but with Pablo Sandoval and Dustin Pedroia on long-term contracts at third and second base and Xander Bogaerts emerging as one of the best young shortstops in the league, there’s nowhere else to play him. Making Ramirez a designated hitter would mean rudely dismissing franchise icon David Ortiz, whose bat has picked up the last two months and who has vesting options for the next two seasons. Most likely, Ramirez will end up at first base next year, but that’s another position he has never played before.
Mired in last place for the third time in four seasons, the Red Sox would likely be happy to unload Ramirez’s contract, which guarantees him $66 million for the next three years with a $22 million vesting option for 2019, and may even swallow some of his salary to do it. Indeed, in those kinds of trades, the better the return in terms of players, the more money the salary-dumping team is typically willing to eat, and Boston is hardly a team that can’t afford to eat some salary.
Why would the Mets want Ramirez? Their infield is not nearly as full, particularly with third baseman David Wright trying to work his way back from spinal stenosis and second baseman-turned-third baseman Daniel Murphy a free agent after the season. Ramirez, who at 31 is just a year older than Murphy, could play second, short or third in New York, all positions he has actually played before, and while he’ll likely be subpar at each of them, he’s unlikely to be the total disaster he’s been in left and will bring with him one of the game’s most potent bats. It probably won’t happen, but that’s not because it doesn’t make sense.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
When thinking about Ramirez, consider this about Tulowitzki: He’s only a year younger, has $32 million more guaranteed on his current contract (which runs through 2020 with a $15 million option for '21) and has played fewer games than even the injury-prone Ramirez since the start of the '11 season (490 to Ramirez’s 545). Yes, Tulowitzki is a far better fielder, but Ramirez has the better career batting line (130 OPS+ to Tulo’s 124). They’re both big gambles, but Tulowitzki would have to be pried out of the Rockies' mitts, while the Red Sox are likely to be open to trading Ramirez.
With the Mets in more desperate need of a bat than a shortstop (once again, Ruben Tejada is proving that he’s perfectly viable as an everyday shortstop), why not go for the player who would come cheaper in terms of both return in the trade and financial commitment?
Justin Upton, LF, Padres
Upton’s bat has gone cold since the calendar flipped to June, but he’s too good of a hitter for that to last, and being traded out of a hopeless situation in the NL West into a pennant race in the East could help revive his performance at the plate. In the meantime, as a pending free agent who is not hitting, Upton has little value to the Padres as anything other than a trade chip. The Mets could actually wind up buying low on Upton by trading for him now, and as the youngest player on this list (he’ll turn 28 on Aug. 25), he’d be the one most worth re-signing this winter.
Of course, New York isn't the only team likely to realize any of that. Indeed, of the five players on this list, Upton may be the most sought-after at this deadline despite his recent slump, which will drive his price back up.