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Mets deadline primer: Sizzle, surprises unlikely amid deals for division crown

As they chase the Nats, the Mets will be buyers at the deadline. However, don't expect another dramatic Yoenis Cespedes-type deal like last summer's. G Fiume/Getty Images

The New York Mets returned to Citi Field after a nine-game road trip to open the second half within striking distance of the division-leading Washington Nationals and right in the thick of the wild-card race. And the Mets sounded reasonably confident of being able to bolster their bullpen before Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. Will there be a lot of sizzle? Probably not. But the Mets are being active in an effort to improve the club.

1. Should the Mets be buyers or sellers at the deadline?

The Mets are bunched with other teams in the National League wild-card hunt and still within striking distance of the Nats. So there is no doubt they will be buyers at the trade deadline.

However, any import is highly unlikely to be as dramatic as a year ago, when the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes at the non-waiver trade deadline.

The Mets nonetheless plan to act before Monday’s deadline passes in order to increase the chances they return to the postseason for a second straight year.

“I would guess we’ll do something,” said assistant general manager John Ricco.

Selling just doesn’t make sense -- not even impending free agent Neil Walker to clear second base for heir apparent Dilson Herrera (or Wilmer Flores).

2. Who should they buy?

The Mets are prioritizing a late-inning reliever who can handle the seventh inning. From there, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have mostly been lights-out when taking leads to the finish line.

Among relievers, the Mets have been linked to ex-Met Joe Smith of the Los Angeles Angels, as well as Atlanta’s Chris Withrow and Milwaukee’s Jeremy Jeffress.

That does not mean general manager Sandy Alderson is dismissing moves that bolster other areas. But acquiring a relief pitcher is the most likely scenario.

“We’re definitely looking at bullpen, trying to get some depth there and add to what we have already,” Ricco said. “The bullpen has performed well. So I think that’s probably the first priority. But we’re talking about everything and we’re monitoring. So I think Sandy is open. If something on the position-player side makes sense, I think he’d be willing to talk about it and maybe do something.”

Ricco does acknowledge that starting pitching is not a burning priority. The Mets feel comfortable with Logan Verrett plugging the Mets’ rotation void until Zack Wheeler returns in late August or early September from a lengthy Tommy John surgery rehab. Verrett has allowed four runs in 11 1/3 innings over his past two starts while filling in for Matt Harvey, who underwent season-ending surgery last week.

“I think that’s generally the way we’re looking at it -- Logan as a bridge to Zack,” Ricco said. “Although, again, we’re talking to teams about everything. So if there’s a deal out there that makes sense, we may look at it.”

3. Which prospects should they be willing to move/which should be untouchable?

After dealing Michael Fulmer for Cespedes and unloading a ton of other minor league pitching a year ago in also acquiring Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard and Reed, the Mets need to be careful not to completely deplete the minor league system, particularly on the pitching side.

Shortstop-of-the-future Amed Rosario, who earned a midseason promotion to Double-A Binghamton, probably will be off limits. After all, he is 20 years old and the heir apparent to Asdrubal Cabrera, who is signed at least through 2017. The same reservations should not exist for former first-round picks Gavin Cecchini or Brandon Nimmo.

Ricco insisted that last year’s departure of so many arms doesn’t mean bigger deals are off the table this time.

“First we look at the major league team and what we need,” Ricco said. “And then certain realities are, when you’ve made a lot of trades, you might not have as much to trade from. At least I don’t look at it as, ‘Because we made trades last year, we’re not going to make them this year.’ I think each year is its own entity. The fact is if you traded away a lot of things, you might not have the depth that you used to have. So some of those trades may not be available. That’s not really the way we approach it.”

Ricco also suggested that it is too early in the season to assume the Mets are not contenders for the division and should be less ambitious because only a wild-card berth may be at stake.

“I don’t know that in July you can really be thinking that way, unless you’re so far out of it,” Ricco said. “I think you’re just looking to make your team the best. There’s still a lot of baseball left. You’re trying to improve the team and get to that stretch run with the best team you can have.”