The disassembly of the 2023 New York Mets, the team with the highest payroll ever in baseball, began late Thursday when they traded closer David Robertson to the Miami Marlins for two rookie league teenagers, the team announced.
Robertson, 38, took over the ninth-inning role for the Mets after star Edwin Diaz injured his knee during a World Baseball Classic celebration. Robertson was a stalwart at the back end of a shaky bullpen, posting a 2.05 ERA over 44 innings, striking out 48 and saving 14 games.
He'll join Jorge Lopez, whom the Marlins acquired from the Twins for reliever Dylan Floro, in a reconstituted relief corps for a Marlins team that, at 55-48, is a half-game back of the final National League East wild-card spot.
"I figured I would be moved, I just didn't know where," Robertson said Thursday night. "Just really didn't have an idea of where, so it's kind of a shock, but it's part of this game."
The Mets are 48-54, the fifth-worst record in the NL, and 6½ games behind the Marlins. After not making a run into playoff contention over the past few weeks, they started to deal from their underachieving roster with Robertson. How many players they'll trade is unclear -- outfielder Tommy Pham is likely to move, while starters Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer remain far longer shots -- but the team with a luxury tax payroll of more than $380 million and a tax in excess of another $100 million will not look the same come the 6 p.m. trade deadline Aug. 1.
Asked if the Robertson trade is the first of more deals to come for the Mets, general manager Billy Eppler said the team is 'listening to where clubs are when they call us."
"If that economic equation points to us making the deal that's best for the organization, then we're gonna have to really consider it," Eppler said.
In return for Robertson, the Mets received 18-year-old middle infielder Marco Vargas and 19-year-old switch-hitting catcher Ronald Hernandez, both of whom were excelling in the Florida Complex League this year. The pair is well-regarded by evaluators -- particularly Vargas, who multiple sources said could grow into a top prospect -- but unlikely to help the Mets until at earliest 2026.
"It's not a complete surprise. You knew this was a possibility," Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo said after Thursday's 2-1 win over the Nationals. "But it's setting in that this is the path that we're going down. That's never an easy pill to swallow. You can't sit here and say you that were completely blindsided by it. You had to know this was a possibility. You were just hoping that we could do enough in this last week and a half or so to maybe give it a shot and go and see what we could do in the last two months. I think they kind of made it clear the direction we're going in. The rest of us just have to take in stride, keep going out there and try to win games."
As New York reckons with the disappointment of 2023, the hope is to build an elite farm system while still spending near the top of the sport. The attempt to build a World Series-caliber team this season started with the re-signing of Diaz and Nimmo and continued with Verlander's arrival to complement the ace they'd signed a year earlier, Max Scherzer.
Success never materialized. The injury to Diaz, the best closer in baseball last season, changed the structure of their bullpen, and attempts to patch it failed. Now, in addition to Pham and the starters, outfielder Mark Canha and reliever Adam Ottavino could be dealt as the Mets shift their focus past 2023 and onto the future.