Their earlier trade for first baseman Carlos Delgado answered the need for a first-class run producer. The Mets courted Delgado in his free agency last winter, but he opted for the Florida Marlins. Now the Marlins, tired of losing money with no new stadium deal in sight, are going through what is known in the trade as a "market correction." They are moving at least some of their highest-price talent. So the Mets finally get Delgado, in a clear-cut case of better-late-than-never.
Now, the imminent signing of Wagner is another obvious upgrade, giving them the preeminent closer on the market this winter. Wagner's record of success is beyond dispute and at 34, with no record of debilitating injuries, he is not a particularly risky bet.
What the Mets have done here is down four birds with two stones. They have made themselves better offensively and in the ninth inning, while at the same time getting core performers from two division rivals. It could be argued that the downsizing Marlins weren't going to contend much longer. But getting Wagner away from the Philadelphia Phillies changes the East equation in a big way. The Phils campaigned hard to retain Wagner. He will not be easily replaced.
It just gets better for the Mets. Delgado and Wagner are distinctly different fellows -- one from Puerto Rico, the other from Virginia -- but they share some traits that are both positive and valuable. They're both solidly among baseball's good guys. They're both honest. They're both bright. Both are proud competitors, but neither is an egomaniac. They'll be good in the clubhouse. They'll be strong in periods of distress. They will add plenty to this club on the field, but over the long haul, their intangible contributions may be just as valuable.
This is the second straight winter in which the Mets have made the biggest splash in the free agent pool. Last year, they signed both the leading available starting pitcher, Pedro Martinez, and the leading position player, center fielder Carlos Beltran.
Martinez stabilized the rotation and added obvious star power. The fact that Beltran did not perform up to the fabulous level that his contract suggested has been well established. But he is only 28. There is plenty of time for him to get back to his best level, even if that turns out to be just short of superstardom. The jury is still out on his signing. Anyway, what were the Mets supposed to do, give up and let the Yankees have him?
When baseball insiders surveyed last winter's free agent class, they almost invariably suggested that the top run producer was not Beltran, but Delgado. Obviously, Beltran had the more varied set of skills, but the numbers were all on Delgado's side of the argument.
Now the Mets have both of them, and they have just added a closer of the first rank. They have once again spent a considerable amount of money, but they are in a position to do that without having to miss the mortgage payments.
There will be a great deal of discussion about the Mets gearing up both the talent and the interest level for their new cable TV network. That's all right, and it is also true that they have to compete against the Yankees on a daily basis, even if the Bronx Bombers are one whole league away.
But in the end, the acquisitions of Delgado and Wagner are not primarily about programming or marketing, even if they help in both of those endeavors. With these two people, the chances of the New York Mets in the NL East just took a great leap forward. The only way they could have done better would have been to sign somebody really good from the Atlanta Braves.