The Mets’ conundrum in making Josh Hader splash

Brodie Van Wagenen flew into Las Vegas for last year’s Winter Meetings with the exhilaration still palpable over the blockbuster deal he had completed less than a week earlier with the Mariners.

The rookie Mets general manager thought he had fortified the bullpen by landing an elite closer in Edwin Diaz, and he produced another surprise, albeit on a smaller scale, by agreeing to a three-year contract worth $30 million with Jeurys Familia on the final night of the meetings, bringing the right-hander back in a setup role.

So the Mets were set at the back end of the bullpen, right? Not exactly.

Twelve months later, Van Wagenen is again heading west, this time to San Diego, with a bullpen headache that hasn’t subsided. This after a season in which Diaz couldn’t keep the ball in the park and Familia morphed into one of baseball’s worst relievers.

The Mets will need both of them to rebound in 2020, but just sitting and praying for results might not be the most prudent approach.

“I think the bullpen needs a lot,” a National League talent evaluator said. “But I also think Diaz is going to be OK. It’s just one of those things — his arm was good, he was throwing — it was just that type of year, but I wouldn’t give up on him. I think a lot of teams would take him.”

Van Wagenen’s best chance at a splash for the bullpen might be to maintain dialogue with the Brewers, who have indicated All-Star left-hander Josh Hader is available. But any such package might have to include a combination of Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith, a big price to pay for a team lacking prospect depth in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

The inclusion of McNeil in any deal would seem unfathomable, given his productivity and the Mets’ uncertainty whether Davis is a full-time third baseman. Davis, who emerged in left field last season after arriving in a minor trade with the Astros, isn’t nearly as untouchable.

“He’s a real good chip and I would use him as a chip if I could get enough,” the evaluator said. “You may not get enough for him, but somebody may value him as an everyday guy that upgrades their situation. He’s not a great corner guy, because his power isn’t that great. He’s more of a hitter with some power, but he definitely has shown he can hit fairly well. They have some depth in the outfield, so that would be the way to go.”

Josh Hader; Jeff McNeil
Josh Hader; Jeff McNeilGetty, Paul J. Bereswill

Van Wagenen can choose to keep his limited assets and dive into the free-agent market for a reliever, but whether the Mets have the financial flexibility to sign a Dellin Betances, Daniel Hudson or Will Harris and still look for other upgrades is unclear. The Mets’ only payroll expenditure this offseason has been Jake Marisnick, who arrived in a trade from the Astros last week. Marisnick, who is arbitration eligible, will likely receive about $3 million next season.

But the Mets could attempt to create payroll flexibility by attaching a player such as Smith to a bad contract (think Jed Lowrie, who is owed $9 million for next season) in a trade. Such a maneuver would dramatically lower the Mets’ talent return in the trade.

The Mets have received interest in Smith, who is blocked at first base by Pete Alonso and is miscast in the outfield.

“[Smith] is going to be interesting to follow the next couple of weeks,” the talent evaluator said. “I really like him a lot. He’s not going to play first base for the Mets and there is no other spot for him. He could start for a number of clubs. I think his power is going to come and he’s going to hit for a good average. [Smith and Davis], those two guys together in a package could really get you a player.”

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