Mets’ sell-off mirrors Nets’ Big 3 failure

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By Susan Comstock

Years from now — or maybe even decades hence — 2023 will have provided two of the biggest “What Ifs?” in basketball and baseball, and in New York sports history. 

The breaking up of the Nets, and now the Mets. 

Yes, drama did in a Brooklyn team that was expected to last. Meanwhile the Amazin’s bet big to win, but age saw them fold their hand. There may be differences, but it’s hard to ignore the similarities. 

They’re two of New York’s biggest disappointments — and priciest to billionaires Steve Cohen and Joe Tsai, the richest sports owners in New York. 

We’ve watched both teams’ breakups. The job of piecing them together again is just starting. 

The trade-deadline fire sale by the Mets — dealing away six combined Cy Young awards in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, among others — elicited comparisons to Brooklyn breaking up its star-studded squad in February, acquiescing to trade demands first by All-Star Kyrie Irving then former MVP Kevin Durant. 

Unwilling to tank, the Nets are retooling around Mikal Bridges, other players entering their primes and a newfound trove of draft picks. The Mets are openly punting on this season and the next, stocking what had been a barren farm system for a 2025 run. 

Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen is the richest owner in MLB.
Mike Puma

No matter how successful either tack turns out, both could be haunted by nagging what-ifs. And injuries helped undo both. 

“We got off on the wrong foot. Everything that could go wrong did early,” said Verlander, who missed the first month of the season with a teres major strain. Then there was Pete Alonso’s wrist and bone bruise, Starling Marte’s migraines and closer Edwin Diaz missing the season with a fluke knee injury celebrating at the World Baseball Classic. 

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By the end, the Mets knew a bad bet when they saw it. Verlander is 40, Scherzer 39. Cohen had guaranteed almost a half-billion dollars to free agents, taking on a record projected $370 million payroll. 

With their age and historic spending, the Mets were always World Series-or-bust. The Nets, on the other hand, were supposed to last. 

Durant and Irving were in their primes when they inked four-year deals in 2019, and formed a Big 3 with James Harden in 2020-21. With Tsai willing to pay the second-highest luxury-tax bill in NBA history, Brooklyn councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. was already mapping a parade route down Flatbush. 

If only the star trio could’ve just gotten on the court. They logged just 16 games together, and never without drama or injury. 

That first Big 3 season ended when Harden and Irving’s injuries cost them in a second-round Game 7 loss to the eventual champion Bucks. The next ended in January 2022 when Herbert Jones fell into Durant’s knee. 

After Brooklyn dropped 11 of 13 going into that trade deadline, Harden forced his way out in a deal for Ben Simmons. And when Durant’s knee got fallen into yet again — this time by Jimmy Butler on Jan. 3 — the Nets went just 6-9 through the deadline, and Irving demanded a move. 

Everything to know about the Mets’ historic sell-off

After a disappointing season, the Mets are selling off their historically expensive roster.

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The Amazins dealt out some big name players before the MLB trade deadline including now-former co-aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

Below are the players the Mets have shipped out:

Tommy Pham

The Mets traded the outfielder minutes before the 6 p.m. deadline to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Arizona is sending back 17-year shortstop Jeremy Rodriguez, who has a .751 OPS rookie ball this season.

Justin Verlander

The Mets traded out Verlander, a sure-fire Hall of Fame pitcher, back to his former team, the Houston Astros.

The Amazins reportedly will receive top Astros prospect Drew Gilbert, a Double-A outfielder, and 20-year-old outfielder Ryan Clifford, who owns a .919 OPS through 83 games in Low- and High-A this year.

Max Scherzer

Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner that was a co-ace with Verlander, was sold off to the Texas Rangers.

The Mets landed one of the Rangers’ top prospects, Double-A infielder Luisangel Acuña, brother of Braves star Ronald Acuña.

Mark Canha

The veteran outfielder was dealt to the Brewers for Justin Jarvis, a promising 23-year-old pitcher that was ranked No. 12 in the Brewers’ farm system.

David Robertson

The Mets traded closer David Robertson to the Miami Marlins, a move that started off the club’s deadline dismantle.

In exchange for Robertson, who is having another terrific season, the Mets received a pair of minor leaguers, infielder Marco Vargas and catcher Ronald Hernandez, from Miami.

Left with an injured and inconsistent Simmons, Durant followed out the door. 

“We just didn’t get on the court enough. When you’ve seen James, Kyrie and myself, it was amazing basketball for [16] games… You need more time on the floor,” Durant said after leaving, adding, “It’s another story about why we didn’t get on the floor together.” 

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Injuries and Irving’s absences are the reasons why. 

Joe Tsai
Joe Tsai’s Nets Big 3 experiment failed.

During their tenures in Brooklyn, Durant missed 151 of 280 games, Irving 135 of 278. Bridges hasn’t missed one since high school. The Nets now are banking on reliability and availability of mercurial ability. We’ll see how it works out. 

Irving’s vaccine refusal cost him two-thirds of 2021-22 and contributed to Harden’s departure. Testy contract talks and tweeting out anti-Semitic films and Alex Jones conspiracy theories likely hastened his exit. 

Brooklyn still limped into the playoffs with Bridges, Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney Smith, and they look like a play-in team again next season. 

The Mets are staring at months of non-competitiveness — with prospects Luisangel Acuna, Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford all in Double-A or lower. They’re nowhere near Flushing, and the Amazin’s are nowhere near contention. 

The Nets had their hands forced into an on-the-fly retooling. The Mets opted to pivot into a full-on rebuild. And both will be left wondering: What if?

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