Mid-June has arrived and with it another unfortunate dose of reality: for all the public pronouncements of 90-win expectations and suggestions that the franchise had at last “turned the corner,” it is clear that the strange territory staked out by Mets management – that of “betwixt and between” a full-fledged rebuilding and a half-hearted attempt at competitiveness – remains the order of the day. Without the aid of a legitimate big market bankroll to attract a difference-making bat or two, and lacking the rapid enough development of key position players from within the farm system, the Mets’ offense remains a stubbornly unbalanced proposition, adept at getting players on base (witness the league leading team walk totals) but chronically inept when it comes to driving them in. Add in the self-imposed sabotage of Terry Collins’ futile attempts to wring production out of the likes of Chris Young while alternatives that might actually plug one of the gaping holes in the lineup (at least to a degree) rot on the bench, and there is nary a light to be seen at the end of this particular tunnel.
The team’s 6-2 victory over the Padres on Friday does shine some illumination on what the likely scenario is for how this season will play out. As many have noted, it was the performance of the most senior members of the roster, Messrs. Abreu and Colon that had the most to do with adding another increasingly rare tally to the “W” side of the board for the Futile Flushing Faction this past Friday. And while Abreu’s four-for-four at the plate and Colon’s string of 18 straight retired Padres likely brought a smile to anyone who appreciates veteran players showing their younger counterparts how it’s done, it is hugely obvious that the greatest value both of these two have to the Mets at this point is as trade bait for teams that are actually going somewhere this season. So, could it be that this was the strategy all along? The answer here is “of course,” and clearly the intent was the same with Chris Young as well had he performed at a level closer to “thoroughbred” than “glue factory denizen.”
Brought in on behalf of the Wilpons by Bud Selig as much for his temperament as his baseball acumen, Sandy Alderson has managed to embody the adjectives “enigmatic” and “circumspect” about as well as anyone faced with the scrutiny of the NYC press corps can do. Charged with implementing a successful small-market strategy in the face of the fiscal restraints the Wilpon family continues to obliquely treat as “the late unpleasantness,” Alderson has had the unenviable task of having to carry out his mission while maintaining the façade that somehow, the process at hand is different than that conducted by his counterparts in Minnesota, Kansas City, and Oakland. Because of the need to placate the Met fanbase and the omnipresent press/blog/sportstalk presence that hovers continuously, he has become a master of suggestion and innuendo merely to provide grist for various mills while consistently underplaying the idea that anything of real substance with regard to the evolution of the on-field product he oversees is imminent.
Other than this well-deserved credit for walking a public relations tightrope with the skill of a Wallenda, perhaps the thing that Alderson has done best since taking the reins in Flushing is wrangling prospects from other organizations in return for whatever assets the team possesses that embody the type of immediate and transitory value that contenders are willing to pay well for. Beltran, Byrd, Buck, and Dickey become Wheeler, Black, Herrera, Syndergaard, D’Arnaud, and Becerra, and before you know it, a dynasty is born! Well, in our dreams, perhaps, but while every Met fan’s patience has been tried mightily, the farm system has evolved to at least provide a source of solace if not productive hitters. So what now awaits the Mets’ 40-somethings? With veteran starting pitching perhaps the most sought after commodity for team’s entering a legitimate pursuit of post-season glory, one would have to guess that once the bidding wars over Jeff Samardzija and David Price have subsided (and from the looks of it the Cubbies are getting things started already with Samardzija), Bartolo Colon will look mighty good to a number of teams, particularly those in the AL where fans will be deprived of the admittedly entertaining sideshow that comprises his at-bats. The case with the rejuvenated (or perhaps “resurrected”) Abreu is similar, as his skills, while primarily that of a DH, appear to be sharper than anyone could have expected at this point in his career.
Colon’s contract, while seemingly an overpayment to many at the time, now appears to be, while not a stroke of genius, at least a surprisingly positive aspect with respect to his value as a bargaining chip. Granted, he remains the oddity that he is – an aging, pear shaped, PED-tainted apparent risk that seems liable to break down at any given moment. But as long as he continues to stay in the groove he’s found and set down batter after batter with the ease of a seasoned professional, teams in search of pitching will not be able to barter down the Mets’ position based on his status as a “rental.” Abreu, by virtue of his “scrapheap” pedigree will likely command less in the way of a return in trade value, but considering that Marlon Byrd and John Buck returned both a useful bullpen arm and an apparently legitimate infield prospect, one has to expect that if a worthwhile return is to be found for the veteran bat, Alderson is the one to find it.
As for the many Met fans clamoring for the exchange of some of the team’s youthful pitching depth in return for some much needed offensive sock, they would all be well advised to wait for the off-season for such a trade to materialize. This is simply not the kind of deal that generally occurs in the heat of battle when teams are trying to arm themselves to the teeth for a post-season run. Better to wait until December and hope for the kind of lightning to strike that put a 24-year old Miguel Cabrera in a Tiger uniform in exchange for…who? While this type of result may only be a fantasy, we may at least see what the impending return of Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell to the mound staff do to the team’s willingness to use some of its seeming embarrassment of pitching riches as ransom for a batsman or two that come from somewhere other than the bargain bin.