The smile stays with you. Kris Bryant’s, that is, while he fielded the final out of the 2016 World Series.
“This is going to be a tough play,” Joe Buck all but shouted on the Fox broadcast when Cleveland’s Michael Martinez hit his slow Game 7 chopper between third and the mound. As he moved quickly to his left, Bryant could have felt a burden too heavy for a thousand men.
The Cubs had not won a championship in 108 years. Aroldis Chapman had blown a 6-3 lead in the eighth. A rain delay had given Chicago’s fatalistic fan base more time to ponder the haunting prospect of a most devastating defeat. There were two outs in the bottom of the 10th, tying run on first, and the Cubs had a reliever on the mound who had never recorded a save.
Most humans would have been paralyzed by the possibility of fumbling this awkward bouncer on wet grass, of throwing it away with a runner busting it down the line, of helping blow a drought-busting triumph and going down as another Steve Bartman — times 10. Kris Bryant? His face lit up with expectant joy.
“I always smile when stuff is coming my way,” he said that night.
The All-Star third baseman most likely has a trade coming his way soon, and the Mets should put themselves on the receiving end of it. If Bryant can handle the pressure of helping the Cubs win their historic title, he can handle the pressure of helping the Mets’ bid to return to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
The National League East is still under the Mets’ control, and it could be a long time before the division is this gettable again. Bryant is reportedly available and he is a former league MVP who can play five positions. As long as the asset/prospect price isn’t exorbitant for a star with an expiring contract, the Mets should do the deal.
That doesn’t mean they should make that trade in lieu of a trade aligned with their top priority — pitching help. The front office should do both. Despite a relentless wave of injuries, the Mets have spent the season fighting for their place atop the NL East. Even after the grim Francisco Lindor and Jacob deGrom news, and a Saturday night loss that could’ve irreparably harmed the cause, the Mets fought back Sunday from a 6-0 first-inning deficit — and that dribbler from hell that scored three Pittsburgh runs and ultimately cost Luis Rojas two games as manager — to win on Michael Conforto’s two-run shot in the ninth.
Before Monday night’s game in Cincinnati, Rojas was asked if the pain of a short suspension can be worth the long-term gain of a supportive message sent to his players.
“I’m always going to fight for the guys,” he said. “I’m always looking for an opportunity where I can help the guys in a way, and I can show them that I’m here for them. So that was one right there.”
A first-place team that keeps fighting through adverse circumstances is a first-place team showing the front office that it is worthy of trade-deadline support. Sandy Alderson and Zack Scott should honor that effort and resilience by being ultra-aggressive over the next week and a half, the $210 million luxury-tax threshold be damned.
Not that the tax should even have a place in any post-Wilpon conversation about the Mets. Steve Cohen is baseball’s richest owner, and he walked his talk by signing Lindor for $341 million. He came advertised as the Mets’ answer to George Steinbrenner, and now is not the time for him to put away his wallet. It would surprise nobody in the coming days if Cohen treated the tax threshold the way an ambitious owner worth $16 billion should treat it.
Bryant and the remains of his $19.5 million wage should be part of his investment. The returns of Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis have given the Mets a more potent attack, but entering Monday night they were still averaging 3.8 runs per game, the second-worst output in the sport. With Lindor out for a while, the Mets could use another high-impact bat.
Trevor Story makes more sense in Lindor’s absence, but he’s never played another position, making Bryant the better fit after Lindor returns. Cohen can deal with Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, in the offseason to see what, if anything, makes sense for down the road.
But this isn’t about down the road. This is about now. The Mets haven’t won a postseason game since the 2015 World Series, and the happy Cub who fielded the last out of the 2016 World Series would help them win a division that is begging to be won.