Jeff McNeil is not looking over his shoulder – or at Twitter and MLB Network these days.
The infielder heard second hand that new GM Brodie Van Wagenen said he was “penciled in,” to be the Mets starting second baseman in 2019. The 26-year-old who had a long road before bursting on the scene in the majors this season, however, knows that pencil can be easily erased and baseball plans change.
With the Mets now talking to the Mariners about a deal involving second baseman Robinson Cano, McNeil has had the idea that he has to work even harder reinforced.
“I see it. It’s hard not to see, but I try not to think too much about it,” said McNeil, who was part of the Mets’ Holiday Shopping Spree for local kids (with Delta Air Lines) at a Target store in Elmhurst on Wednesday. “I just try to go about my business and do the same thing I was doing.”
What McNeil did last year was enough for him to earn a chance this spring, but not enough to have his name written in permanent ink.
An industry source confirmed Wednesday that the Mets have talked with the Mariners, expressing interest in 24-year-old closer Edwin Diaz. The Mariners are interested in deals that allow them to ship out Cano and most of the $120 million left on his contract.
While the Mets and Mariners are talking, a team source said Wednesday that nothing was “imminent,” and it would take a lot of movement for them to get to that point.
And the Mariners have plenty of trade partners for Diaz, who recorded 57 saves last season.
Under team control through 2022, the right-hander has 109 career saves in just three seasons in the big leagues. The Yankees and Red Sox have also reportedly checked in with the Mariners about acquiring Diaz.
The Mets and Mariners, however, could make an interesting swap of bad contracts with Jay Bruce going back to Seattle and work out a deal where the Mariners pay part of the remaining salary on Cano’s contract.
Moving Bruce would free the Mets of logjams in the outfield and first base, where the 31-year-old was heading because of hip, back and foot issues. It would also clear out the $28 million owed Bruce on the three-year deal he signed just last winter.
The Mets would also have to dip into their core of young players to get a deal of this magnitude done, the industry source said. They would likely have to send back a top prospect like shortstop Andres Gimenez, right-hander Justin Dunn or 2018 Mets top draft pick Jarred Kelenic. A team source said that the Mets would not include more than one of those players in any deal. It would also likely include a young major leaguer and Seth Lugo has been among those floated, the source said.
The deal may be categorized as “unlikely,” at this point, but the teams are still talking so anything is possible.
For the Mets and Cano this could be the perfect opportunity.
While he is 36 and coming off a season interrupted by an 80-game suspension for PED use, Cano is still an eight-time All Star with a career .304/.355/.493 slash line over 14 years. Last year he hit .303/.374/.471 with 10 homers and 22 doubles in 80 games. Cano would be an upgrade offensively and even defensively for the Mets.
For Cano, who was represented by Van Wagenen when he signed the 10-year deal with the Mariners, New York is obviously a familiar place, after he spent the first nine years of his career playing in the Bronx. After last season’s embarrassment of being busted for cheating with PEDs, coming to a new team and a new league could be a fresh start.
At least, it’s an interesting idea that certainly stokes the flames of the hotstove.