Friday, July 30, 2004

Game 101 - Mets
Trade Tirade 
Mets 10, Expos 1
Record: 49-52

On the upside, the Metmen posted double-digits' worth of runs again and smoked Les Expos.  On the downside, in doing so they only managed a split of the four-game series.  On the upside, Al Leiter pitched another dandy and is currently the MLB ERA leader . . . by a lot.  On the downside, the Braves won again, keeping the Mets six out and making individual stats seem meaningless.  On the up, Eric Valent hit for the cycle and Mike Cameron hit two more homers.  On the down, beating up on a quartet of pitchers named Rocky, Sun-Woo, Roy, and Claudio is nothing on which to hang your hat.  On the up, it keeps the Mets in pseudo-contention.  On the down, it keeps the Mets in pseudo-contention.  Let me explain.

Somewhere, sometime yesterday, I had an epiphany.  It happened sometime between leaving work in the late afternoon and sneaking a Mint Milano in the evening before hunkering down to watch the Orioles drub the Yankees.  Strangely, that gap is primarily filled by the drive home, and there's very little D.C. rush hour traffic does to spark creative thought, except perhaps how to creatively torture and maim the driver who ignored available blinkers and the laws of physics to slide 'twixt the car in front and me.  But it happened; I figured out why, cosmically speaking, the Mets have reeked of sweaty backside of late.

The grand design for the Mets is as follows: the Mets make a solid first-half showing, overachieving in some regards, merely living up to potential in others.  Then, just when it appears the Mets have at least one hook in the playoff race, they stumble, just enough to consider themselves realistically ineligible for trade deadline moves.  After July 31 passes (plus the month's worth of waiver maneuvers), they still have their nucleus of talent with an eye on the future -- both immediate and distant.  2003 was never really anything more than a long shot, anyway, but it was fun while it lasted.

And so a peace came over me while I watched in glee as Jose Contreras and a couple of relievers got kicked around by a 46-54 ballclub.  I could settle into the last two months of the season, knowing that, with a couple of reasonably expected free agent acquisitions this winter, the Mets would be poised to do damage in the NL next year and for a few to come.   And this satiating serenity lasted precisely nine innings of baseball, nine frames in which the New York Yankees were kicked around by an inept band of Baltimore misfits.  For after the game, Peter Gammons relayed the news that the Mets were prepared to deal for Kris Benson.

The problem with this or any major deal like it is this: the New York Mets aren't really about the 2003 postseason, and this trade is.  They'd give up Ty Wigginton, who, despite being a young, solid, versatile player with a Grade A attitude, may have reached his ceiling at "decent."  Fine, especially because he doesn't really have a place in the Piazza-Reyes-Matsui-Wright infield.  But the second, more important piece is Matt Peterson, a minor league pitcher who appears to have the stuff to make it.  Supposedly the White Sox are considering throwing in a third player just to keep the Pirates from dealing Benson to the Twins.  Obviously no harm done there, either, so what's the big deal? 

Benson is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season.  That means you're dealing the future for right now, and sub-.500 clubs aren't in the now.  The Mets have indicated that they'd like to make the most of the opportunity to sign Benson to a multi-year contract between now and the end of the season, but this tactic has an unusually high failure rate in the Big Apple.  Most free agents who sign with a N.Y. team are taking a chance, and they're basing it on the visitor stays they've had, plus the red carpet tour they got when being courted.  Sometimes they survive, sometimes they thrive, sometimes they crumble, but they're signed long-term, so what can they do?  Kris Benson has no obligation to stay, so if he has a couple of months to get turned on or (more likely) off by the 5 boroughs, and that could leave the Mets with two months of service in a dead season in exchange for a young arm.  Very dangerous, Dr. Duquette.  All this without delving into Kris Benson's career-long trouble with injury and severe underachievement.  Yikes.

Then we hear about the possible trade with the Devil Rays (which would continue a trend of acquiring pitchers from teams with dreadful ERA's) which would bring the Mets RHP Victor "The Other, Less Talented" Zambrano in exchange for the Mets' best pitching prospect, Scott Kazmir.  This trade would mean mortgaging the future for . . . God knows what.  Kazmir could one day be the ace, while Zambrano could one day set the record for most walks allowed in a season.  Of course, this speculation comes largely because some members of the press found a Devil Rays media guide on Art Howe's desk, which is a fairly ridiculous rumor catalyst.  Couldn't it have just been that Art wanted to see what fictitious figure Lou Piniella penciled in for his weight?

Just in the last couple of minutes, some more information has been filtered to me.  Wacky stuff like Cliff Floyd going to the ChiSox for that 3rd player (whoa), Lastings Milledge -- the Mets' 1st-round pick last year -- being the 3rd player in that deal, the entire Mets' roster for Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano, etc.  It all bodes ill, as far as I'm concerned.  Walk away.  Just walk away. 

The only thought that's crossed my mind that makes me want them to deal youth for bigger names is Alex Escobar -- the can't miss talent whom the Mets shielded from lucrative offers, then finally dumped him on Cleveland for Robby Alomar.  Forgetting the season-and-a-half-long enema that was Alomar, Escobar was supposed to be the prospect of prospects.  Now that he's out for the season again this year, I think the book on him can be closed: calling him lousy is an insult to lice.  And if an upside that big can become a chute-less skydive into oblivion that quickly and surely, in the Mets organization no less, maybe we aren't giving management enough credit, or the scouts too much credit, or  . . . my head hurts.  Time to get grab a beer and watch ESPN for updates.

Stay tuned.  Perhaps all of this is just a ploy to keep the fans interested for a few days while the Mets visit Atlanta for what could be three days of hot, humid, humbling hell.  The Mets could be 9 out by Monday, and they still think they're buyers?  Well, I'm not buying it.

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