CHICAGO — In the days and weeks leading up to the weekend acquisition that virtually no one saw coming, Brodie Van Wagenen’s phone had been ringing constantly as the Mets entertained proposals that would meet their general manager’s vision to win now and win in the future.
Two of their hard-throwing starting pitchers, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, were constantly mentioned in trade rumors, and at least one seemed destined to be on his way out.
Then the All-Star right-hander Marcus Stroman landed with the Mets, who will move forward with a rotation that ranks among baseball’s best. That Syndergaard, Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Stroman remained a collective unit after Wednesday’s trade deadline may come as a surprise to those outside the confines of the Mets’ front office, but not to the decision makers who believe the Mets can still contend in 2019.
And yet, while the Mets had won five straight heading in Wednesday night’s game against the White Sox, pulling themselves out of the hole they dug earlier this season will most likely take more than a well-constructed starting rotation.
“We’re the underdogs,” Van Wagenen said in a conference call on Wednesday after the Mets remained silent through the 4 p.m. trade deadline.
Pulling off the Stroman deal could be viewed as a bit of a coup for Van Wagenen, the rookie general manager whose initial moves to bolster the Mets roster have been underwhelming. In December, he traded prospects to bring Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz to Flushing from the Seattle Mariners. Both Diaz and Cano have struggled as the Mets have flounder under the .500 mark.
Rumors swirled about just how much selling the Mets would do in the days leading up to Wednesday’s trade deadline, but luring Stroman seemingly changed everything. Van Wagenen said Wednesday that the Mets had remained in regular contact with the Blue Jays for the better part of the past eight months, culminating in the weekend move that brought Stroman, a native of Long Island, home to New York.
“I’m excited — I was praying we didn’t trade any of those guys that were being rumored about — Wheeler and Syndergaard — because I truly think we can have the best staff in all of baseball,” Stroman said Wednesday. “It’s already one of the best staffs in all of baseball and I hope to just come in and add to that.”
He added: “It’s getting down to that point where it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be wild and we’re going to be right in the thick of things.”
Suddenly, Syndergaard — who suggested on social media that he believed his time with the Mets would be ending soon — was meeting with Van Wagenen and Mets chief operations officer Jeff Wilpon and receiving the message that the team intended to keep him.
Wheeler said Wednesday that he was prepared to be dealt, especially since he will be a free agent in the off-season. But after the trade deadline passed, Wheeler was the latest player to receive word from Van Wagenen that he was safe and part of a rotation that manager Mickey Callaway and his bosses believe could help propel the Mets to a playoff berth.
“I think it’s one of the best rotations in baseball,” Wheeler said, including Stroman in his assessment. “It has been for the past few years but with the addition of him, it only gets better. Hopefully, we keep reeling off these wins and maybe make a push for it.”
Stroman is slated to make his Mets debut on Saturday in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. But with him now in the rotation and the bullpen improving, Callaway said more good things are in store for the suddenly surging Mets.
Callaway said the confidence inside the clubhouse never wavered, though he acknowledged the odds were against the team. Now that the Mets have started to string victories together, Van Wagenen’s vision has picked up steam, at least inside the organization.
“We’re going to make a run at this thing,” Callaway said. “With this rotation, anything is possible.”