The New York Mets are at the top of the National League East with a 52-31 record–a whopping 21 games over .500. They have two All-Star finalists in Starling Marte and Pete Alonso. Outside of that, they have a plethora of players who are playing extremely well, including Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Diaz.
Once you take the rose-colored glasses off, however, you’ll see that not everything is perfect in Queens.
What was once a ten-game lead over the Atlanta Braves is now just 3.5. Alonso hasn’t recorded an RBI in nine games. Outside of Diaz, the bullpen has been a slight worry. Guys like James McCann, J.D. Davis and Dom Smith (with the exception of last night’s game) have been struggling at the plate. The rotation could always use some depth, even with Max Scherzer back and Jacob deGrom making progress in his rehab.
If the Mets want to win their first division title since 2015, they’re going to have to make some moves. With the trade deadline not until August 8th, general manager Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen still have some time to make up their minds. However, it’s going to come up quickly. In the meantime, here are some possible targets for them to consider.
DH Nelson Cruz, Washington Nationals
In my last article, I went into a little more detail about the Mets’ situation at DH. Despite Dom Smith and J.D. Davis’ recent hot streaks, I still think the Mets could take a crack at Nelson Cruz, the 42-year-old veteran. This past offseason, he signed a one-year deal with the Nationals, meaning that (taking his age into consideration too) he would most likely be a rental. He would provide some much-needed experience to a position that he knows quite well. Right now he is hitting .239/.321/.365 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs but he has struggled a bit so far in July.
In addition to his experience, Cruz is a good option because of his price. His lack of versatility, age and contract are all factors that bring his price down–especially when you compare him to some of the other targets the Mets could get. If the Mets want a cheap rental that could end up helping out, I think Cruz would be the best option. Rumor has it he is already on their radar.
1B/DH Josh Bell, Washington Nationals
Nelson Cruz is not the only National that the Mets have on their radar. Josh Bell is another candidate, and a younger, more versatile one at that. The 29-year-old (soon to be 30) is having a great year so far, hitting .310/.393/.502 with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs. He is one of the bright spots on a Nationals team that is sitting at the bottom of the National League East.
Between Bell and Cruz, Bell is the better option of the two. He is younger, can play first base and has been the better hitter so far this year. Like Cruz, he also signed a one-year deal with the Nationals over the offseason. However, his youth and current stats make him a more expensive option for the Mets–which may make him more difficult to get considering how the Mets currently stand. The sacrifices would be worth it, as Bell could platoon with Alonso at 1B and DH and give the Mets a jolt of offensive output that they need. Plus, they could always resign him if he does well.
1B/OF/DH Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
If the Nationals refuse to trade with their rivals, the Mets could look elsewhere for some help. Trey Mancini, the versatile 30-year-old, is a great candidate. He plays for the lowly Orioles, batting .280/.354/.423 so far this year with eight home runs and 33 RBIs. Even though he has mostly played as a DH, he can also play at first base and in the outfield.
The Mets are already interested in him and I think that it’s valid. He is versatile, on the younger side, can hit well (and maybe even better with a better team around him) and is easy to root for. However, he is not a free agent until 2024, meaning the Mets would possibly have to spend more to get him. Additionally, with the help of a five-game winning streak, the Orioles have found themselves in the American League Wild Card race with the help of the extended playoffs. Even though the New York Yankees are far and ahead in the AL East, the Orioles could still find a way into the playoffs. If they like their chances, they could end up keeping Mancini and become buyers instead. In any case, I could see the Orioles waiting it out a bit before finally deciding their next move(s) going forward.
OF Andrew Benintendi, Kansas City Royals
Sitting at the bottom of the American League Central, the Royals have already accepted defeat this season, sending Carlos Santana to the Seattle Mariners in a trade. Next on the list could be 28-year-old Andrew Benintendi, the former Red Sox. He has had a nice season so far, hitting .319/.388/.405 with 33 RBIs and 96 hits. Benintendi is drawing significant interest and, despite not having played at DH, he could easily slot into that role and provide outfield depth–potentially replacing someone like Ender Inciarte. He will be a free agent after this season but given his youth, the Mets could resign him if they wanted to.
SP Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
Unfortunately, the Mets were not able to see this pitcher first-hand in their most recent series against the Reds. However, that shouldn’t stop them from inquiring about him. Even with Max Scherzer back and Jacob deGrom’s return on the horizon, I think it’s worth it for the Mets to look into 24-year-old Luis Castillo. He has been great so far this year, with a 3.09 ERA and 66 strikeouts. Even though he is just 3-4, his other stats prove his worth.
So yes, even with Scherzer and deGrom returning, this could be a great move for the Mets. A rotation of deGrom, Scherzer, Castillo, Chris Bassitt and Carlos Carrasco/Taijuan Walker would be deadly. Plus, you can never have too much rotation depth–especially with most of your starters in their 30s. David Peterson and Trevor Williams have been acceptable in their time in the rotation but an upgrade would work wonders for the Mets.
RP Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
Now here is an intriguing idea. To diehard Mets fans, this name may sound familiar. That’s because Michael Fulmer was drafted by the Mets in 2011 before being traded to Detroit for none other than Yoenis Céspedes. Originally a starter, Fulmer has since developed into a reliever. In 31 games this season (31 innings), Fulmer has a 2.03 ERA with 31 strikeouts–talk about consistency.
It would be poetic for the Mets to trade for Fulmer, considering how much Céspedes helped them in their 2015 playoff run. Fulmer could return the favor for the Mets, shoring up their mediocre bullpen. With Detroit most likely not going to the playoffs this season, a nice offer could lure Fulmer away from them. Entering free agency next year, the 29-year-old could be a good rental for the Mets–even though I could see them going for a lefty reliever instead.
The Mets have played well so far but with high aspirations, there is definitely room for improvement. With the trade deadline about a month away, the Mets need to start thinking about what they want to do. Do they upgrade at DH, taking a crack at someone like Josh Bell or Trey Mancini? Do they upgrade the rotation, netting the young Luis Castillo? Or do they look to shore up their bullpen, adding Michael Fulmer, the former Met?
The Mets have a plethora of options to choose from; it’s just a matter of what they want to improve on and how much they are willing to give up. Considering their aging aces, strong squad and team chemistry, I think it’s crucial for them to go all-in. Their window of opportunity is open for the time being. Seize the moment and take it.