x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The rebuild begins for the New York Mets

The changes at the baseball outfit are only just starting ahead of the trade deadline, even if they would not admit it.

The morning after Sandy Alderson traded the closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers for two marginal prospects, he insisted that it was not the start of a fire sale by the New York Mets.

The Mets' general manager said all the right things: that the club is not giving up on the current season and that they expect to be a factor in the race for the play-offs.

From a business standpoint, Alderson had to say that. He cannot send the signal to the fans to stop paying attention - and stop buying tickets. The franchise is already reeling from its association with the convicted swindler Bernie Madoff and faces a billion-dollar lawsuit as a result. Nor can Alderson advertise to other clubs that the Mets are cashing out, since that would further devalue the players he might soon trade.

But most executives around the game believe this is only the beginning, and that before July 31, when the non-waiver trade deadline arrives, the dismantling of the Mets will be in full swing.

Alderson has some talented players to offer. The outfielder Carlos Beltran is the next obvious trade target. His long-term deal with the Mets expires after this season, and the Mets will not re-sign him, given his age, 34, and ailing knees. But Beltran is enjoying a fine season and would be a nice addition to a club seeking a productive bat for the final two months of the season.

The Mets have no logical reason to hold on to him, especially because he has a clause in his contract that prohibits him being offered salary arbitration after the season. The Mets would not get even a draft pick as compensation when he signs elsewhere after this season.

The most intriguing piece for Alderson is the shortstop Jose Reyes, who is also eligible for free agency after the season. While Reyes is, at first glance, the kind of player around whom a team can build, there are risks to trying to sign him to a long extension.

Reyes has a history of leg injuries - he is currently on the disabled list with a hamstring pull - which would constitute a considerable risk. For a team with a perilous financial picture, that would be a bad investment. Dealing Reyes, on the other hand, could land the Mets multiple prospects in return and begin the franchise's long rebuilding process.

Playing in a division with two of the game's most talented teams (Philadelphia and Atlanta) and two others who have stockpiled loads of talented young players (Marlins and Nationals), the Mets need to start over.

The overhaul has already begun, even if no one is admitting it.