Are the Mets a contender? As of Tuesday they are exactly .500 and only three-and-one-half games back in the National League East.
I’ll say this, they are definitely not out of contention.
The Mets have another month to see where they stand as we head towards the trading deadline.
There is no reason for me to tell you that this is a flawed team. The Mets can certainly add a player or two. However, upon closer inspection, the team may only need relief in the form of pitching.
Let’s examine the lineup:
At catcher you have the duo of Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco. At once what was once considered a weakness is now a strength. Barajas provides the pop and Blanco offers great defense behind the plate. I don’t see a need for an upgrade there. In fact, Barajas is likely going to be an All-Star this season. He has ben more than advertised and the Mets now look good for not overspending for the Giants Bengie Molina.
First Base: After Daniel Murphy went down with an injury at the end of spring training, the Mets scrambled to field a competent first baseman and settled on journeyman Mike Jacobs. But Jacobs failed miserably and the Mets finally made the call to bring up Ike Davis, who is the future at that position. Davis, with his pop and defense, has taken off with the job and will have the position locked up for the foreseeable future.
Second Base: Luis Castillo. Sure, there is tread on the tires, but he is solid and gets on base at a good clip. Perhaps, in exchange for hitting, you can start Murphy sometimes at second when he returns.
On the left side of the infield: Jose Reyes and David Wright. They are cornerstones and while they may struggle at times, you have to stick with them. They both have a good enough track record to know you can count on them in the long run.
In the outfield, for the most part, everyone has done their jobs and there is no dire need of an upgrade.
Jason Bay was the big acquisition in the off-season and is starting to heat up. Anything you get from the long anticipated return of Carlos Beltran would be gravy, as the temporary replacement of Angel Pagan has been a relatively great surprise. You also got Jeff Francoeur, who is what he is, a free-swinging slugger with tendencies for being streaky. Between Bay, Beltran, Pagan and Francoeur you have a suitable outfield rotation.
Perhaps you can rent a power hitting lefty to solidify the bench, but expect Murphy to get his at-bats somewhere and you would still have Alex Cora, Blanco, and Chris Carter on the bench. If you want to say goodbye to Fernando Tatis and Gary Matthews Jr., I will not shed a tear, but it has to come at a cheap price.
Now we get to the pitching. This is certainly the area in need of an upgrade.
As we saw on Monday night, the patchwork staff can only go so far. Hisanori Takahashi was exposed and the bullpen had a major meltdown in the 18-6 drubbing at the hands of the usually light-hitting San Diego Padres.
If the Mets are in contention by July and if some major pitchers are available, Omar Minaya has to upgrade this staff. The names being tossed around as possibly being available are the Astros Roy Oswalt, the Mariners Cliff Lee and the Orioles Kevin Millwood.
Let’s just forget about trying to do anything with Oliver Perez. Perez is not worth the space I am writing on here. If I’m Minaya and Perez doesn’t want to go to the minors, I just may have to cut my losses and release him. Perez is simply rotting in the pen.
Despite a poor start Monday night, Takahashi can be a serviceable fourth or fifth starter. You can’t downplay the significance he had in 12 shutout innings vs. the Yankees and Phillies prior to the San Diego start.
And then there is Dickey and Maine. While Dickey has been pitching well, can his knuckleball ways keep up for a whole year? If anything, he can serve as at least a good long man in the pen. With Maine, it all has to do with health and his velocity. If he comes back refreshed, great, but if he can’t get his velocity up after his return you have to move on.
I expect Niese can come back and provide efficient innings upon his return. No need to panic.
Regardless, the Mets simply cannot carry on as a consistent winning team with the staff as it is. This affects the bullpen as well.
Who is the long man? Is it Raul Valdes? Will it again be Takahashi? What exact roles do Ryota Igarashi, Fernando Nieve, and Jenrry Mejia have with this team? Nieve has been overworked and Mejia is still wet behind the ears to expect consistency with him.
Minaya must know what he is dealing with when it comes to the staff. There are pieces in the Mets organization that can get a deal done. I don’t think the names like Mejia, Ruben Tejada, and when healthy, Fernando Martinez are not immovable objects.
If the Mets can package the likes of those youngsters to get a Lee or an Oswalt, than Minaya should pull the trigger. If anything, put a nice offer to get a stabilizing vet like Millwood on your team who won’t cost as much when it comes to prospects. This team needs a clear-cut number 3 pitcher and it’s just not on this team. Niese, Takahashi, Dickey, and when healthy, Maine can be decent back end starters.
If Minaya doesn’t make a move to bolster the staff as a whole, also perhaps going after a bullpen arm, then this will not be a team playing for anything in September.