LAS VEGAS — That the Mets and Yankees would even contemplate a trade large enough to ship Noah Syndergaard from Queens to the Bronx provides symbolism for where the teams are at this offseason:
The Yankees will pursue high-end starting pitching wherever it may be.
The Mets, under Brodie Van Wagenen, are shopping in areas and ways not familiar to Wilpon ownership.
As of late Monday, there were executives on both sides of New York baseball downplaying the potential of a three-way trade that also would send Miami’s J.T. Realmuto to the Mets. What resonated nevertheless was the Yankees’ perception that the Mets really would engage them at this level, that this was not just theatrics by Van Wagenen, but rather a concerted effort by the new Mets GM to open avenues and not be tethered to ownership-inspired fears of dealing substantially with the Yankees.
As recently as the July 2017 trade deadline, the Yankees felt like the Mets were too gun-shy to actually make a deal that might help them win after the sides engaged on Neil Walker and, particularly, Jay Bruce. The Yankees thought at some point that they were going to finalize a deal for Bruce that would cost them two prospects, including Jake Cave, who had a nice season for Minnesota last year (13 homers in 283 at-bats, .783 OPS). But the Mets pulled out late, and it was the Yankees’ perception that a key reason was Mets ownership fretting about helping the Yanks in any way win a championship.
Syndergaard would be that type of piece for the Yankees, a top-of-the-rotation possibility who could push them toward a parade. When the Yankees heard he could be available, Brian Cashman reached out to Van Wagenen to inquire. If nothing else, the positive pre-existing relationship between the two GMs dating to Van Wagenen’s time as an agent has made the tenor between the teams better. The Yankees have been left with the impression that Van Wagenen is authorized to do what he believes is right for the Mets — even deal significantly with the Yankees.
But there are many hurdles to overcome to make this three-way trade possible — and the two New York teams dealing with each other at this level was not even the biggest.
The Marlins and Yankees worked together on the Giancarlo Stanton trade last year, but that was essentially because Miami had no place else to turn to move as much of the slugger’s remaining $295 million as possible. But Realmuto is a desired piece in many places and, thus, the tension between the two front offices provides an obstacle.
Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter is an iconic Yankee, but he also is a grudge-holder against those he feels slighted him. And he particularly did not like how Cashman handled his last multi-year contract negotiations. Marlins VP of player development Gary Denbo, perhaps the lieutenant whom Jeter trusts the most, was an effective Yankees farm director, but not well loved within the organization, and the parting (which included a few Yankees employees following Denbo to Miami) was not a lovefest.
In addition, the Marlins — as they should — have asked for huge returns on Realmuto. They are particularly motivated to maximize the catcher after failing to get overwhelming returns for Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and especially Christian Yelich last offseason. They have lowered their demands somewhat in recent weeks, recognizing they have to trade Realmuto now before he loses value. He is two years from free agency and has made it clear he will not sign long-term with Miami.
Nevertheless, the Marlins were still asking, for example, the Dodgers for 2017 NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger plus prospects. The equivalent cost to the Yankees to have Syndergaard re-directed to them would be Miguel Andujar or Gleyber Torres — who finished second and third for AL Rookie of the Year — plus prospects.
As hungry as the Yankees are to add another starter beyond James Paxton, they did refuse to go to a sixth year for Patrick Corbin, though Cashman described him as their top free-agent target, and a fourth year for Nathan Eovaldi. They also have so far resisted the big trade requests for Cleveland’s Corey Kluber or going to a third year for J.A. Happ, who remains their most likely next starting addition.
There is a scenario in which they use Andujar to land a starter and then sign Manny Machado, but the Yankees do seem to like Andujar a lot, and the industry expectation remains that Philadelphia has prioritized Machado and, thus, might make a contract proposal where the Yanks won’t go.
Right now, in fact, the bolder New York team is the Mets, who took on Robinson Cano’s contract to land Edwin Diaz. Van Wagenen has been determined to make the Mets 2019 contenders while rallying ownership to not go slowly and cautiously in one area at a time. The Mets had multiple scenarios in play, of which Syndergaard to the Yankees was not considered a most likely outcome.
But there were enough of them and a sense of possible movement on significant pieces that Jeff Wilpon flew in Tuesday at Van Wagenen’s behest because it would be easier to move more decisively with the owner present. Van Wagenen was particularly working on Realmuto, which includes another hurdle: convincing Miami to trade within the NL East.
Van Wagenen’s fixation on boldly upgrading the Mets in the present and the Yankees’ hunger to find a difference-making starter at the least have created a dialogue, suggesting a change in the relationship to keep an eye on whether Syndergaard ever becomes a Yankee.
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