Trad­ing Ja­cob or Noah may be Mets’ best bet

New York Daily News - - SPORTS - JOHN HARPER

Is the Mets’ win­dow to win a cham­pi­onship, which most ev­ery­one once thought would be wide open as long as their young pitch­ers stayed healthy and un­der fi­nan­cial con­trol, about to slam shut? And if so, will they have any choice but to con­tem­plate trad­ing one or both of their star pitch­ers, Ja­cob deGrom and Noah Syn­der­gaard, come July?

The idea of a Mets-Yan­kees trade has got­ten a lot of talk-ra­dio buzz the last cou­ple of days, and for good rea­son con­sid­er­ing that deGrom could help put the Yan­kees over the top while blue-chip prospects like Este­van Flo­rial, Clint Fra­zier and Jus­tus Sh­effield could give the Mets the young play­ers they des­per­ately need.

The Yan­kees might just do such a deal, but there’s no chance the Mets would send deGrom to the Bronx to win cham­pi­onships. For one thing, they cer­tainly could bring back a haul from a lot of other con­tenders for their ace. But with lit­tle qual­ity pitch­ing at the top lev­els of their farm sys­tem, the Mets would be com­mit­ting to a com­plete re­build with any de­ci­sion to trade deGrom and/or Syn­der­gaard. And for a team that is in win-now mode, com­mit­ted fi­nan­cially for the next cou­ple of years to key play­ers in their 30s, that would be a most dif­fi­cult call to make. Yet it would also be fool­ish not to at least eval­u­ate all pos­si­bil­i­ties, be­cause it sure feels as if the Mets are headed for a cross­roads faster than any­one could have imag­ined, with what seems to be a glar­ing lack of tal­ent at the up­per lev­els of their farm sys­tem. Af­ter all, their 11-1 start now looks like the very def­i­ni­tion of a short-sam­ple anom­aly that washes out over 162 games, based as it was on some hit-the-lot­tery com­bi­na­tion of timely hit­ting and lock-down re­lief pitch­ing. Mean­while, you knew the Na­tion­als would get hot even­tu­ally, but even more sig­nif­i­cantly, the Braves and the Phillies are al­ready speed­ing ahead of their ex­pected re­build timeta­bles, win­ning with the types of young play­ers the Mets des­per­ately need — and plenty more on the way.

Years of un­pro­duc­tive drafts are catch­ing up with GM Sandy Alder­son, who tried to patch to­gether a con­tender by sign­ing 30-some­thing free agents Jay Bruce, Todd Fra­zier and Adrian Gon­za­lez at a time when ma­jor-league base­ball is trend­ing younger and younger.

The Mets hired Mickey Call­away as man­ager largely to re­vi­tal­ize their once-bal­ly­hooed young pitch­ers, and they were con­vinced that, if healthy, the ro­ta­tion would again be among the best in the league.

Yet more than a quar­ter of the way into the sea­son, there is no ev­i­dence that Call­away or new pitch­ing coach Dave Ei­land has had an im­pact.

It is noth­ing short of jar­ring, in fact, to take a look at the Na­tional League ERA rank­ings for start­ing pitch­ers: 1)Na­tion­als, 2.92. 2)Braves, 3.41 4)Phillies, 3.46 12)Mets, 4.51. And you prob­a­bly thought the Braves and Phillies, 1-2 in the divi­sion as of Thurs­day, were win­ning mostly on the strength of their young of­fen­sive stars, es­pe­cially At­lanta with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Al­bies crush­ing ev­ery­thing in sight.

Well, they’re do­ing that too. The Braves rank first in the NL in runs scored, and the Phillies are fifth, but the pitch­ing is the sur­prise.

Splurg­ing for that three-year, $75 mil­lion deal to sign Jake Ar­ri­eta is pay­ing off for the Phillies. He has pitched well and his ace-like stature surely has taken pres­sure off the other starters in the ro­ta­tion, all of whom are age 25 or younger. What­ever the rea­son, the Phillies’ starters have pitched to a 1.29 ERA over their last nine games, and new man­ager Gabe Kapler, no longer be­ing booed in Philly, by the way, is not so quick to pull them out of games early any­more.

The Braves, mean­while, are sim­i­larly young in their ro­ta­tion other than Bran­don Mc­Carthy, but are about to get even younger. Count­ing 20-year-old Mike Soroka, who made his ma­jor-league de­but with six shutout in­nings against the Mets a few weeks ago, the Braves have five starters 21 or younger who started the year ranked in the top 50 of all mi­nor-league prospects by

Fur­ther­more, with po­si­tion play­ers in­cluded, the Braves started the sea­son ranked No. 2 among all farm sys­tems in base­ball, and the Phillies were No. 4, ac­cord­ing to the site.

So even if the Braves and Phillies fade in the stand­ings this sea­son, they seem to be set up to con­tend for years. And both teams are ex­pected to add top free agents next win­ter to boost their young cores: the Phillies, es­pe­cially, have hinted at be­ing big play­ers for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.

All of which prompted a ma­jor-league ex­ec­u­tive from a team in an­other divi­sion to say this on Thurs­day, when I asked him to size up what this means:

“The nee­dle is point­ing way up for them. You can’t say that about the Mets.”

It’s hard to imag­ine Alder­son, who de­spises the thought of tank­ing, giv­ing in to such a no­tion, but he can’t ig­nore the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, ei­ther.

In­deed, the peril of com­mit­ting to ev­ery­day play­ers in their 30s these days is al­ready start­ing to sur­face, as Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes, Fra­zier and Bruce are all deal­ing with in­juries of some sort.

Even more to the point, it has be­come clear that Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler aren’t the elite starters the Mets once thought they’d be, Ja­son Var­gas has been a dis­as­ter, and, well, Matt Har­vey is in Cincin­nati.

It doesn’t mean the Mets can’t still get them­selves into con­tention this sea­son. It does mean they need to be hon­est with them­selves if things don’t im­prove dra­mat­i­cally in the com­ing weeks, and re­al­ize the win­dow that opened in 2015 is al­ready clos­ing fast.

With things spi­ral­ing out of con­trol for Mets and lit­tle tal­ent on deck, is it time for Sandy Alder­son to con­sider deal­ing Noah Syn­der­gaard or Ja­cob deGrom?

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