It’s always a carnival when the Yankees play the Mets in New York, as they did for two games this week at Citi Field. The Mets swept the pair, and with 127 combined victories, the two teams have visions of the first Subway World Series since 2000, when the Yanks won in five games and the series clincher was at the late Shea Stadium.
But with the season speeding toward the Aug. 2 trade deadline and the 100-game mark, the concern is not about what these two teams are going to do right now against each other. It’s about the Yanks holding off the Houston Astros and the Mets outlasting the defending champion Atlanta Braves.
To that end, the Yanks and Mets also are competing for the perceived top prize in the trade market, Washington outfielder Juan Soto. And after Wednesday night’s 3-2 loss, the Yanks made their first move, obtaining .321-hitting outfielder Andrew Benintendi from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for three minor leaguers.
“He’s obviously a really good player in the middle of an All-Star season,” Yanks manager Aaron Boone said during his postgame media conference. “He’s a guy with a track record, and he’ll fit in well.”
After going 0-for-15 against the Mets with runners in scoring position, the Yanks can use all the help they can get.
The Yankees must have the better record over Houston to earn home-field advantage in a best-of-seven American League Championship Series, if they get that far. They lost to Houston in both the 2017 and 2019 ALCS, when the Astros had dome-field advantage and held serve. The Yanks currently have the top record in baseball at 66-33, two games ahead of the Astros.
“If it comes down to Game 7 and the home team wins in that scenario you’re talking about, it’s going to matter,” Boone said before the game. “But we’re going to try to be the best team we can be.”
The Mets, who have been haunted by the Braves for decades, led them by 10 1/2 games as May turned to June. Now, they are neck and neck to win the National League East.
“That’s a given that Atlanta was going to be a very competitive foe,” Buck Showalter, the veteran manager in his first season skippering the Mets, said during a media conference prior to Tuesday night’s game, a 6-3 Mets win. “We live in a world where people want to know what’s going to happen before it happens. I’m OK with that.”
In their second season of ownership under billionaire hedge fund magnate Steve Cohen, the Mets haven’t been to the World Series since 2015 nor won since 1986.
The Yanks, who consider winning the World Series as part of their pedigree, haven’t won since 2009. They haven’t even been to the World Series since George Steinbrenner died in 2010 and left the lucrative franchise to his kids with Hal Steinbrenner replacing his father as principal owner.
Not so incidentally, according to Sportico’s own valuation of MLB franchises, the Yankees are baseball’s top valued franchise at $7.01 billion, and the top globally among all sports franchises. The Mets are worth $2.68 billion, sixth on the list.
As far as spending on players is concerned, the Mets and Yanks are Nos. 2 and 3 in Major League Baseball behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. All three have payrolls in excess of $250 million, well above the initial luxury tax threshold of $230 million. The Yanks will add to that the remaining two months of Benintendi’s $8.5 million this season to their already swollen payroll with perhaps more to come.
Under the new 12-team playoff format, win the East with at least the second-best record among division winners and the Mets move on to an NL Division Series. Slip to the first of three Wild Cards, and the Mets would host a best-of-three Wild Card series with all games at Citi Field. If the season ended today that would be the San Diego Padres.
Bring it on, said Showalter.
“I’m a big fan of, the better you play during the season, the more advantages you get,” he said, when asked about the new playoff format during a press conference. “I know it’s affecting the trade stuff, because more teams are involved.”
As July turns into August, the Mets and Yankees are in the market to improve themselves at the trade deadline; both are pursuing Soto if the Nationals choose to deal him.
Benintendi will help fill the hole left by Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who was put on the 10-day injured list Tuesday because of Achilles tendinitis in his left foot. How long the often-injured All-Star Game MVP will be gone at this juncture is still in question, although Boone said he didn’t expect it to be that long.
Soto would be additional plumb.
“Reinforcement of All-Star level players are just going to make us a longer, tougher, more formidable team,” Boone said. “It’s fake news that we have too many power hitters, too many sluggers. That’s fake. We have savages in the lineup.”
The Mets could also use Soto, but it will take a gaggle of prospects and perhaps a strong starting player or two to get him. A trade like that would leave holes on the current 26-man big-league roster that would hurt a team with the immediate quest of winning the World Series.
Despite Soto turning down a recent 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals, he still has two more years of arbitration eligibility before he hits free agency after the 2024 season.
At that point, his agent Scott Boras has already said he will sell him to highest bidder.
“Baseball is about billions now, and players are about millions,” Boras said during an interview in Los Angeles before the All-Star Game. “You’re always trying to determine what the value of a player is, and Juan Soto is at the top of that food chain, because he’s the greatest of the greats. And historically, we have a footprint telling us what that means going forward.”
As Showalter pointed out, the Mets and Yanks should be so lucky.