Just in time for the Subway Series, Yankees top Mets at the trade deadline
The Subway Series, established in 1997 with the introduction of interleague play, hasn't quite maintained its novelty as it nears its 20th birthday. What was once an emotion-filled set between the contending New York Mets and New York Yankees teams of the late 1990s -- complete with prime Mike Piazza-Roger Clemens showdowns -- has largely lost its luster.
With the Yankees failing to win 90 games in each of their last three seasons, and the Mets just snapping an eight-year playoff drought last season, recent Subway Series haven't exactly been showcases of elite baseball talent.
This week, though, while neither team is currently within two games of a playoff spot, an unprecedented dynamic is being put on display. The Yankees, within striking distance of a playoff position, made the organizational decision to forfeit the remainder of 2016 in favor of stocking the farm system. The Mets, just two games better than their crosstown rivals entering Monday's series-opener, were unequivocal buyers -- adding slugger Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds and making an unsuccessful run at catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
The two organizations' strategies were both sound. The Yankees are about to free themselves of several aging, expensive players as their contracts are set to expire, and had valuable pieces that other teams coveted. While fully disengaging from a playoff push that seemed ill-fated anyway, GM Brian Cashman netted returns that instantly boosted the team's minor league system among the league's best. While falling out of contention for just one season, the Yankees will likely be ready to contend for the postseason as soon as 2017 -- a rebuilding turnaround that every floundering team would be envious of.
The Mets, 54-50 entering this year's Subway Series, added a significant piece by parting with a valuable prospect for the second consecutive deadline. Currently 2.5 games out of the Wild Card race, adding a bat was a necessity for the defending National League champions, who are desperate to contend during the small-and-shrinking window of controlling their stable of young starting pitching on affordable contracts.
That two teams were able to correctly judge their situations and act accordingly isn't inherently interesting. The timing of the contrasting transactions coming hours before first pitch of the Subway Series makes for fun fodder, but was a product of random schedule making. There was an even deeper level at play on Monday.
Despite waving the white flag and trading three of their top contributors, the Yankees were the winners on Monday -- before Logan Verrett threw his first pitch to Brett Gardner in the first inning at Citi Field around 7:10 p.m. On the day of a contest that exists almost solely for bragging rights, the Yankees -- like they have more often than not over the last two decades -- topped the Mets again.
That's not to say the Mets made the wrong moves, either. Bruce is an addition that should help a fledgling offense that ranks last in the league in batting average and third-to-last in runs -- and with any fortune, perhaps he can help reverse the team's struggles with runners in scoring position.
Surrendering their projected 2017 starting second baseman, though, in Dilson Herrera, for yet another left-handed-hitting corner outfielder (Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson both fit this description and figure into next year's plans) seems dubious enough to warrant some doubt. Bruce's career .319 OBP is worrisome, too, for a team that ranks 11th in the NL.
It's also important to remember that at the 2015 deadline, while Yoenis Cespedes was the only player acquired externally, several others returned from injury shortly after. This go-around, the team only has Lucas Duda's return to look forward to -- a move, though, that will displace James Loney, who has been one of the more consistent Mets since he was acquired in May. So while Bruce is surely a bat that will help, it's doubtful that he alone can make a significant enough impact to boost the Mets back into the driver's seat.
Across town, the Yankees now control a prospect that's garnered Mike Trout comparisons in Clint Frazier. In Gleyber Torres, they have one who's been compared to Derek Jeter. For 39-year-old Carlos Beltran, they acquired last year's No. 4 overall draft pick. Combined with incumbent minor league stars Jorge Mateo and Aaron Judge -- and, once healthy, Greg Bird -- it's a bunch that could make the Yankees one of baseball's best "homegrown" teams in just a few seasons.
While just a year ago the Mets were the unquestioned kings of New York baseball's years to come, that's far from a certainty now -- it may not even be true at all.
The Yankees' sacrifice to make this a reality? Two months of underwhelming performance -- which, many would argue, is what they would've gotten anyway.
For the Mets, 2016 was finally the year this wasn't supposed to happen. The defending National League champs, with healthy arms and certain re-signed Cuban slugger in tow, were ready to take back the city that's been claimed by navy pinstripes since the 1980s. Aug. 1, in their home park, was the time and place to make it official.
But, once again, they came up just short -- several hours before they blew an eighth-inning lead to fall 7.5 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals.
- By John Dorn
See the highest-paid players in baseball this season