Column: The Biggest Trade Deadline Acquisition, a Winning Culture?

Photo: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

When Major League Baseball came out with changes to the trade deadline, I was excited and interested to see what major differences might be had. It’s pretty safe to say I wasn’t disappointed and a big reason for that turned out to be what GM Brodie Van Wagenen and the New York Mets did (or more importantly, did not do.)

Social media in this time of year is rampant with false information, sources from all over, and takes from anyone with a handle. I don’t think anyone could have imagined the Mets acting in the way that they did, and while this has received a largely negative reaction, I found myself going into the second half of this season and looking into next season feeling hopeful about the most important move the Mets have made this year. A culture change.

Culture gets talked about a lot in sports, particularly a “winning culture”. The good teams have this, and the bad teams lack it, but what exactly is it? I believe you can define a “winning culture” as a combination of confidence along with support from the organization that provides you the tools to be successful. It’s a two-way street, the players have to perform well and buy into the organization, and the organization needs to provide the necessary tools for success. Van Wagenen and the Mets front office have shown their team that they are confident in their abilities, and reflected a team that as Van Wagenen said in his opening press conference has the goal of “winning now and in the future”.

When the notification pushed to my phone about RHP Marcus Stroman being acquired by the Mets it prompted me to make a long-overdue appointment at the eye doctor. Could I really believe what I was reading? This was not a move that I expected the Mets to make, and to be honest was surprised they made such a splash as buyers at the trade deadline. The last huge acquisition the Mets made that shocked me like this was back in 2015 and came in the form of OF Yoenis Cespedes, we know the story about that team’s run to the World Series after that trade.

In a vacuum trading, Kay and Woods-Richardson for RHP Marcus Stroman was a good trade. Just look at the haul that the Cleveland Indians got for Trevor Bauer. The question for the Mets was, what’s next?

Rumors circled again around RHP Noah Syndergaard being moved, which didn’t sit well with me. Trading two years of control for one just isn’t good business and when 4 pm finally hit on Wednesday I was relieved to see that “Thor” was still on the Mets. The other move only ended up being trading Jason Vargas to the Phillies to open up a rotation spot and acquire a minor league catcher for depth in the organization.

The reaction from the trade deadline? Still seemed pretty negative which surprised me a bit.

Will the Mets make a similar run as they did in 2015? Color me skeptical. Are there question marks still on this team? Absolutely, particularly in the bullpen, at catcher, in the outfield, there are still holes that need to be filled at the Major League level, and now the minor league level with the trades made over the last couple of years.

What have the Mets done?! Seemed to be the cry all around New York.

One theory I saw thrown out a lot (and implied by some folks out there I respect too) as that the Mets acquired Stroman as a way to spite the Yankees. The end goal to prevent the Yankees from winning this year. This theory is completely and utterly ridiculous. The New York Mets is a professional organization whose goal is to sell tickets (and eyeballs) to their product, their baseball team. To accomplish this the Mets need to be a good team and play well. A move that’s only design would be to damage the Yankees would be franchise malpractice and against the goals of any professional baseball organization.

So what did they really do?

The Mets controlled the supply of starting pitchers in a trade deadline where the market demand was high. This put the team in the driver’s seat for the rest of their trade negotiations. Van Wagenen was asking some very high prices for his starting pitchers, which other teams didn’t seem to bite on, but still left the Mets in a good enough position to perhaps, make a crazy run this year. A gamble for sure, but that’s the theme since Van Wagenen’s hire which included his draft choices in this year’s MLB Draft.

What else did they do? They remained consistent with the message from the beginning of the year, for better or worse. “Win now and in the future”. The emphasis considering the team’s biggest strength is their starting pitching rotation would be on the former part of that sentence uttered by Van Wagenen when he was first hired. The moves made show the front office and ownership’s support in the second half of the season where the Mets hope to slide into a wild card. At the end of July, they are just 4.5 games back. Stranger things have happened in baseball. Even an abysmal 2018 Mets showed great improvement in the second half of their season and the 2019 Mets look ready to come in and fight.

Want proof of that “winning culture”? That confidence? The message is the same from the front office, to team management, to the players themselves, they see opportunity ahead to slide into the wild card and have the tools to give it their best go this year, and set them up for something similar (if not better) next season. Just check Pete Alonso’s message to fans released earlier today.

The easier decision would be to blow up the team, admit they went wrong, press that reset button, appease the masses. But this team has bet every chip they have on starting pitching for a long time and defiantly doubled-down on the plan. It’s a gamble, damned bold one. It’s a surprise to be sure, but one I’ve welcomed over the last couple of days. It’s a confidence, an arrogance, a swagger that is a bit intoxicating.

What we have now is a New York Mets organization seemingly on the same page with players and staff that are confident about opportunities to win-now in the second half. This is not the same team of yester-year which leads me to believe that the biggest acquisition that the Mets may have made during this trade deadline is the birth of a “winning culture”. I’m curious to see if the moves made by Van Wagenen work out or not. One thing for sure, the second half of this season is going to be pretty interesting to watch.


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