Sandwiched around the number-retirement ceremony for Mike Piazza, the best midseason swap in franchise history, the Mets continued trade discussions Saturday on two fronts — but with the focus shifting to Jay Bruce as a deal for Jonathan Lucroy was looking less likely, according to sources.
Lucroy had been the Mets’ primary target, and Bruce more of a fallback position. But the Brewers’ steep asking price of multiple players, in the upper ranks of the Mets’ system, had temporarily cooled those talks as of late Saturday and prompted the front office to more seriously revisit the Bruce conversations with the Reds. The Indians also reportedly had made progress and were looking like the favorite to land Lucroy.
Initially, Bruce was not considered a great fit, as a lefty-hitting corner outfielder. But the Mets could use him in rightfield, with Curtis Granderson then being forced to share time in center with Michael Conforto. Before the Mets went back to the Reds on Bruce, they had been discussing a three-player package Saturday for Lucroy that included Travis d’Arnaud and Brandon Nimmo. The potential third player was unknown late Saturday, but the Mets consider Amed Rosario and Dom Smith off the table, along with Conforto. Evidently, those parameters changed dramatically later in the day.
The Brewers did not have Lucroy in Saturday’s starting lineup — usually a sign that a trade is imminent — but d’Arnaud began Saturday night behind the plate for the Mets. Nimmo did not start. When asked about holding out d’Arnaud, Terry Collins said his policy is to wait for Sandy Alderson to tell him something is imminent, and that had not happened.
Also on the Mets’ agenda is a late-inning relief pitcher, with the Angels’ Joe Smith at the forefront of those discussions. It’s possible the Mets could try to expand a Lucroy deal to involve a Milwaukee reliever, maybe either Will Smith or Jeremy Jeffress, but that was unclear as of late Saturday.
The Mets did sign veteran outfielder Justin Ruggiano before Saturday’s game — subbing him on the 25-man roster for the DL’ed Jose Reyes — but their chief NL East rival was busy Saturday securing a desperately-needed closer. The Nationals, who lead the Mets by 7 1/2 games, acquired Mark Melancon from the Pirates for reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn.
Melancon, the former Yankee and a pending free agent, was 30-for-33 in save chances for the Pirates with a 1.51 ERA. He’s expected to take over as the Nats closer, bumping the struggling Jonathan Papelbon, who had allowed eight runs in his previous three outings — a combined one inning.
“We knew full well that holding Mark Melancon would have been a good return,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told reporters. “But at the end of the day we felt this was a better return for us.”
The Nats trading for Melancon also removes a top suitor for the Yankees’ Andrew Miller and likely indicates he’ll be staying in the Bronx. The chances of Brian Cashman getting a team to overpay for Miller — as the Cubs did for Aroldis Chapman earlier this week — now appear slim less than 48 hours before the deadline.
The NL East, in fact, was trade central Saturday as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the Braves sent third baseman Hector Olivera, currently finishing up an 82-game domestic violence suspension in the minors, to the Padres for outfielder Matt Kemp. Kemp was batting .262 with 23 home runs for San Diego, which now unloads roughly $62 million of what’s left of his original eight-year, $180-million deal. Olivera, originally signed by the Dodgers after defecting from Cuba, still is owed $52 million through 2020.
Kemp is the sixth player the Padres have shipped out this season, joining Drew Pomeranz (Red Sox), James Shields (White Sox), Fernando Rodney (Marlins), Andrew Cashner (Marlins) and Melvin Upton Jr. (Blue Jays).