Friday, July 28, 2006

Wiser Time

Games 94 through 101 – Mets

Reds 7, Mets 4
Mets 4, Reds 2
Mets 7, Astros 0
Mets 4, Astros 3
Astros 8, Mets 4
Cubs 8, Mets 7
Cubs 8, Mets 6
Mets 1, Cubs 0 (10)
Record: 60-41

Taking a break somewhere amid the thrilling tedium of a 162-game season can be very healthy for a player. Let’s hope that Pedro Martinez is Exhibit A of that notion tonight in Atlanta. It’s also healthy for us fans to do the same thing; while you don’t have to be an physician to know that such a break filled with a steady regimen of ultraviolet rays and fermented beverages is actually far from healthy, a mental hiatus once or twice along this six-month slog can be invigorating. So why do I feel so sluggish about the Mets?

My second half of the New York Mets season may well begin tonight with Pedro’s start against the born-again Braves. It’s been a rather amorphous stint to close out July for the Mets, with some notable feats but little that bodes but so well or ill for the long haul.

John Maine has been surprisingly effective while Tom Glavine’s been his mirror image. El Duque has shown slightly less consistency and predictability than the Magic 8-Ball™. The hitters have hit, except when they haven’t. Willie’s been outdueled once or twice, been hammered by his supporters, and carried on vigilantly. Just another week in MetLand, I guess.

Overall, the Mets are doing what they need to do in this position. Keep winning more than losing, find some definition in that problematic pitching rotation, and try to keep the offense in tune. Trying to stay healthy is just ludicrous, since it’s when you fixate on avoiding injury that it strikes most often, so just keep a couple of fingers crossed. Remain loose, maintain clubhouse chemistry, and have some fun as the dog days of August wilt other squads. Avoid the huge collapse by emphasizing fundamentals, playing to strengths, and steering clear of premature autopilot activation.

And maybe – just maybe – add a player or two if and only if it’s the right deal for now and in the future. If that sentence seems tempered and timid, it’s for good reason.

A trade right now could improve the team and its chances for success in the 2006 campaign, possibly at the detriment of the ’07, ’08 and/or later seasons. Based on what seems to be available, though, the upside seems limited, and the aforementioned detriment could very well outweigh those chances of success. Consider Barry Zito – and Scott Boras – for three months and Lastings Milledge deleted from future media guides. The allure of Zito on this somewhat erratic staff is huge, but keeping an eye on the target doesn’t mean a singular focus on October 2006. Let’s revisit an ignored plea of old:
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 . . . It all bodes ill, as far as I'm concerned. Walk away.
Just walk away.
It’s neither challenging nor enlightening to point out an “I told you so” passage, but it underscores my sentiments right now. No possible deal has been mentioned in the mass media which has made me feel as though parting with Milledge (or Pelfrey, or others of note) was worth it. Walk away from the high-risk/high-reward trades this year. Teams up 12 games at this point don’t need those deals.

Meanwhile, the Mets have been rumored (which we take with several grains of salt) to be involved in other deals that strike me as somewhere between minor upgrades and needless tweaks. Remember, teams up 12 games at this point don’t shuffle things up for the sake of it. Addressing a need, yes. Adding a wrinkle, no.

General Managers who ward off complacency in the face of regular season achievements often see the fruits of such labor, so I’m far from asking Omar Minaya to stop taking calls. It’s just worth reminding him that the next week is one of a select few amid the yearly 52 where folks in his position earn their keep most obviously, and the Mets’ particular situation demands patience and shrewdness more than gallantry and excitement. Next July 28th I want to be feeling no worse about the Mets than I do right now. Of course, a World Series trophy this fall could alleviate any angst next season might otherwise bring, but if there’s a transaction to be made in the next few days that all but guarantees that accomplishment, I’m not yet privy to it.

There are plenty of examples of past deadline deals that carried a team deep into the postseason, and the Mets have one on their roster in Carlos Beltran. Back in 1986, of course, the Red Sox made a rare August trade, sending Rey Quinones and three guys ineligible for the Baseball Encyclopedia to Seattle for Spike Owen and . . . wait for it . . . Dave Henderson. I dare say that this deal impacted their immediate future in a very big way. So the road is paved for Omar to add that last big piece.

Just remember that in the same breath the Mets, sitting comfortably atop the NL East in 1986, did next to nothing around the deadline. (They traded veteran pitcher Ed Lynch in June for a box of balls, some parachute pants, and the 12" dance-single of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus.” They also jettisoned George Foster, illustrating some more addition by subtraction, and added longtime Met Lee Mazzilli.)

I guess my point is that with Mets Township’s megaphone bigger and louder than ever, it may seem that we’re all clamoring for Omar to execute the big deal that makes the Mets more of a true contender to make some noise in the autumn. I’m not sure that’s the case among most die-hards. The skewed financial system of MLB gives the Mets the edge via the free-agent market, and Omar took full advantage last winter. The Mets may not have the most impressive hand we’ve ever seen, but with most of the teams around the NL circle looking like they’ll be folding, let’s at least think about letting it ride and see what happens.

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