MIAMI — Adding a middle reliever before the Aug. 1 trade deadline has become a near certainty for the Mets, at least that’s how club officials are treating their search for an arm that would provide much-needed depth for this season’s stretch run.
The trade market is expected to be stocked with options that shouldn’t cost marquee prospects, such as former Met Joe Smith, who is having a down season (4.36 ERA) with the Angels, though he owns a steady track record. Smith, 32, is the type who checks two boxes for the Mets — righthander with experience.
“The reality is as you move through the season, bullpens get taxed,” Mets assistant general manager John Ricco said. “Certainly, this year, we’re looking toward fortifying in that way.”
But when it comes to other areas — such as bolstering an inconsistent offense or filling out a suddenly injury-plagued starting rotation — the answers are far less clear.
As the Mets weigh their options, they must also endure what has become a critical stretch, beginning Friday with a three-game series against the Marlins.
The third-place Mets trail the second-place Marlins by 1 1⁄2 games, and trail the frontrunning Nationals by six. The weekend presents a chance to gain ground for the Mets, who also trail the Marlins by 1 1⁄2 games for the second wild card.
A postseason berth could hinge on what the Mets do to fortify their team, though winning or losing leading up to the deadline could shape their approach to making deals.
For now, the Mets intend to keep an eye on the market for starting pitching, though as a group, the class is thin. It’s part of the reason that Mets may stick with what they have in-house.
Matt Harvey is already out after season-ending surgery. Bartolo Colon, 43, had been envisioned as a sixth starter at the beginning of the year. Zack Wheeler is a month, at least, from rejoining the rotation.
Lefty Steven Matz is pitching through a bone spur in his left elbow that will require surgery.
“We know that it’s there but we’re not operating like that’s hanging over our heads,” Ricco said of Matz.
Meanwhile, the Mets are scoring 3.74 runs per game, third worst in the National League. But a Yoenis Cespedes-type move seems unlikely.
“I don’t see us making that kind of a move for a guy,” Ricco said. “I think what we have here is more than enough.”
Third base, first base and catcher would be spots for potential upgrades. But manager Terry Collins has resolved to give Jose Reyes plenty of playing time at third. First baseman Lucas Duda has started baseball activities and is on the road back from a stress fracture in his back. And the organization still views Travis d’Arnaud as a long-term solution behind the plate.
So, for now, the Mets continue to make their round of calls to rival clubs looking for matches, all with the knowledge of knowing that the marketplace could shift in the nine days until the deadline. Consider this time last season, when Cespedes wasn’t yet on the Mets’ radar.
Not surprisingly, rival clubs have inquired about Michael Conforto, feeling out the Mets’ willingness to move him after a steep drop off in production sent him to Triple-A Las Vegas. A clubs official said the Mets have shown no interest in such a move.
During the last week, scouts from the Reds, Twins, A’s, Padres, Royals, Brewers and Rockies and Rays have checked in on the Mets’ Double-A affiliate in Binghamton. Their roster features top prospect Amed Rosario. But with Rosario, the Mets continue to show little willingness to use him in a trade.