Mak­ing the Mets:

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Bob Night­en­gale Columnist USA TO­DAY

With one stroke, new gen­eral man­ager Brodie Van Wa­ge­nen has New York’s NL team rel­e­vant again in its divi­sion.

Shoot, there go the New York Mets’ chances for be­ing on the cover of Base­ball Amer­ica.

Oh no, the Mets’ farm sys­tem is about to be trashed by na­tional pub­li­ca­tions and web­sites eval­u­at­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s prospects.

Gosh, the Mets can’t spend the next five years hyp­ing outfiel­der Jarred Ke­lenic as the next Dar­ryl Straw­berry.

Ap­par­ently, the Mets and new gen­eral man­ager Brodie Van Wa­ge­nen never got the memo that when you hire a new front office regime, you’re sup­posed to gut the team, un­dergo a com­plete re­build and plead for pa­tience with your fan base that you’ll be a World Se­ries con­tender in five years.

The Mets, in a bold, ag­gres­sive and, yes, gutsy move, ac­quired eight-time Al­lS­tar sec­ond base­man Robinson Cano and All-Star closer Ed­win Diaz from the Seat­tle Mariners for prospects in Ke­lenic and right-han­ders Justin Dunn and Ger­son Bautista, along with vet­eran outfiel­der Jay Bruce and right-handed re­liever An­thony Swarzak. The Mariners, be­sides as­sum­ing the $34 mil­lion re­main­ing in Bruce’s and Swarzak’s con­tracts, also are chip­ping in $20 mil­lion.

Just like that, the Mets are rel­e­vant again in the NL East, and the Mariners’ 17-year post­sea­son drought will be pro­longed well into the next decade.

Since the sea­son ended, the Mariners have traded Cano, Diaz, ace James Pax­ton, catcher Mike Zunino and pitcher Alex Colome and had agreed to a trade that will send All-Star short­stop Jean Se­gura to the Philadel­phia Phillies for short­stop prospect J.P. Craw­ford in a multi-player pack­age, ac­cord­ing to a high-rank­ing official di­rectly in­volved in the talks. The per­son spoke to USA TO­DAY on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause not all of the play­ers had been in­formed of the deal at press time.

The only bizarre and truly wacky as­pect of the Mets-Mariners trade is the re­ac­tion: Folks are ac­tu­ally cel­e­brat­ing in Seat­tle and con­demn­ing in New York.

This was not a reck­less move by the Mets. Ac­tu­ally, it was rather cre­ative.

The Mets es­sen­tially added $66 mil­lion to their pay­roll when fac­tor­ing in the re­main­ing five years and $120 mil­lion on Cano’s deal, the money from the Mariners and the play­ers traded away. They now have a power-hit­ting sec­ond base­man for the mid­dle of their lineup and a 24-year-old closer who was the most dom­i­nat­ing re­liever in base­ball last sea­son. Diaz is a year away from qual­i­fy­ing for salary ar­bi­tra­tion.

And folks are an­gry?

Just think about Diaz’s value alone. If he were a free agent, he’d be worth at least $100 mil­lion. And the Mets have control of this guy, who saved 57 games last year, for the next four years.

Tell me why try­ing to win a World Se­ries now, and still hav­ing a win­dow open to com­pete for at least sev­eral more years, is such a ter­ri­ble risk?

If you’re a Mets fan, would you rather un­dergo a mas­sive re­build, lose 100 games a year and, if ev­ery­thing goes right, con­tend again in five years?

Sure, Cano, who was sus­pended for 80 games last sea­son for vi­o­lat­ing Ma­jor League Base­ball’s pol­icy on per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs, could sud­denly look like an old man play­ing clean. What are the chances of the 36-year-old con­tin­u­ing to play at an All-Star level in the final years of the con­tract? Even if his body fades in three years, so what? He’s an ex­pen­sive bench player. Who’s to even say there won’t be a DH in the Na­tional League in the next col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment? (The cur­rent one ex­pires af­ter the 2021 sea­son.)

The only act of stu­pid­ity would be if the Mets sat back now and thought they were good enough to win the NL East with­out mak­ing any other moves. News flash: That ain’t hap­pen­ing. The Mets’ front office is just get­ting started.

The Mets still want a front-line catcher, a cen­ter fiel­der and a deeper bullpen.

And, oh, by the way, they are not trad­ing Noah Syn­der­gaard for prospects.

Sure, if some­one blows the Mets away with a pack­age of prospects and ma­jor league play­ers who can fill holes, the Mets will lis­ten. Un­less a Syn­der­gaard trade brings back play­ers who can help them win in 2019 — which likely would re­quire a multi-team trade — Syn­der­gaard will be pitch­ing March 30 against the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als in the Mets’ sec­ond game of the sea­son.

Let the Mariners, San Diego Padres and all of the rest of the re­build­ing teams brag about their farm sys­tems while they keep los­ing year af­ter year.

The Mets are back to be­ing a po­ten­tial power in the big­gest mar­ket in the coun­try.

Re­mem­ber when the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants were lam­basted year af­ter year this decade for their de­pleted farm sys­tem?

All they did was win three World Se­ries ti­tles in five years.

Is any­one still com­plain­ing in Bos­ton that Dave Dom­browski traded prized prospects Yoan Mon­cada and Michael Kopech for Chris Sale?

The last we checked, we have yet to see a sin­gle ban­ner cel­e­brat­ing prospect ti­tles at any ball­park in the coun­try. But the Red Sox will be hang­ing their 2018 World Se­ries flag on April 9 at their Fen­way Park home opener.

Sure, maybe Ke­lenic, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft, be­comes an All-Star outfiel­der for the Mariners. Scouts say he has the po­ten­tial to hit for power at some point in his ca­reer.

Then again, maybe he be­comes the next Mickey Mo­niak, the Phillies’ No. 1 over­all pick in 2016 who has strug­gled with a .671 OPS (on-base plus slug­ging per­cent­age) in the mi­nors since be­ing drafted.

Maybe Dunn be­comes a No. 3 starter in the big leagues, al­though some scouts be­lieve he’ll have more im­pact as a re­liever.

No one knows.

If this was an ex­act sci­ence, 21 teams wouldn’t have passed on Mike Trout in the draft. There wouldn’t have been 401 play­ers se­lected ahead of Al­bert Pu­jols. Agents have hor­ror sto­ries on all of their first-round picks who never play long enough to even qual­ify for salary ar­bi­tra­tion.

But what we do as­sume is that the Mets know their own prospects bet­ter than any­one. And Van Wa­ge­nen, the for­mer agent who rep­re­sented Cano when he signed his 10-year, $240 mil­lion con­tract with the Mariners, knows Cano’s heart and pas­sion as well as any­one. Van Wa­ge­nen is con­vinced a re­turn to New York will re­ju­ve­nate him with his legacy at stake.

It’s the kind of bold, dar­ing move that used to dom­i­nate the base­ball land­scape, be­fore GMs were more wor­ried about pre­serv­ing their job se­cu­rity than tak­ing risks.

This could even be the gam­ble that defines Van Wa­ge­nen’s new front office ca­reer — and it should be cel­e­brated.


Robinson Cano, left, and Ed­win Diaz, right, are ex­pected to make an im­me­di­ate im­pact with the Mets.

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