Reality can be a plunge into a cold bath, or it can just be reality. Tonight I watched the Mets lose by a pair of grand slams to the Dodgers and didn't even flinch.
What good would flinching have done? I figured the Mets would lose, and just hoped it would be dull and pitiable instead of excruciating and infuriating. They were slow on a couple of ground balls, two different pitchers walked in runs and the offense couldn't muster an extra-base hit. By the ever-sinking standards of the summer of 2009, that's not that bad.
Before the game Omar Minaya came down to talk injuries, and somehow managed to finish his rundown by game time. Carlos Delgado is hitting off a tee, but probably five weeks away. (And that's five weeks away from standing in a batter's box and having the stats count, not five weeks away from somehow being the Carlos Delgado of the second half of 2008.) Carlos Beltran is on the bike and in the pool, which means don't hold your breath. (OK, hold it in the pool. We've got enough problems around here.) Jose Reyes tried to run and needed a cortisone shot, which means you can't even discuss a timetable. John Maine is throwing off flat ground, which in the language of injured pitchers is a tiny step above “arm still attached to body.” J.J. Putz was seen sitting in the dugout. Billy Wagner is pitching to batters in Florida, but that's a giant crapshoot and unfortunately, Billy Wagner is not a cleanup hitter. Oliver Perez starts tomorrow, which … oh wait, it's Oliver Perez.
In other words, everybody important who's hurt or Oliver Perez is still hurt or Oliver Perez. The cavalry, if it comes at all, will trickle in a horse at a time to find the ranch burnt and the settlers dead. And there isn't enough bullion in the bank to hire enough new cavalrymen. I've seen too many disappointing Met prospects over the years to object to the idea of mortgaging the supposed future, but you could spot us the farm systems of the Rangers and Rays and probably still not be able to swing deals to fill all the Mets' holes. Nope, as Westerns go this is the end of “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid,” and we are not walking away. It's over.
Look, the front office deserves to get excoriated for bad contracts and idolizing crappy veterans and poor roster management and entrusting the health of the players to a staff of Dr. Nick Rivieras, but in the end no single one of those things nor even the combination were what sunk the 2009 Mets. It was a barrage of injuries even a better-constructed plan wouldn't have survived. It may be unjust that that perfect storm will obscure the other mistakes, but the world is rarely just. Let's just move on.
Let the season go, make a PLAYERS FOR SALE sign and start building for 2010 right now. This needn't be a teardown project, or anything that will make the Citi Field bean-counters blanch under their green eyeshades. The Mets should open 2010 with a roster built around David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and Frankie Rodriguez, and there's no reason to think that core can't contend with the right complementary pieces and bit players added to it. So start figuring out how to assemble them in July instead of November.
What can we swap? Well, by any modern reckoning, Luis Castillo is a terrible baseball player. But this year he worked hard to turn himself back to what he was in late 2007: merely terrible instead of terrible, fat and hurt. Fortunately, Major League Baseball is full of stupid GMs made greedy by the thought of playoff games. Point out that Luis Castillo never strikes out, is faster than average, has Gold Gloves on his mantle and is (dramatic pause) a veteran. That, plus paying off an admittedly cringeworthy portion of his horrible contract, might be enough to fob him off on someone else and let Orlando Hudson know to expect a call in November.
Ryan Church shows signs of being able to hit and is a superb defensive outfielder. I bet someone would rent him for the rest of '09. Brian Schneider's no great shakes, but crappy catchers automatically get a reputation for being Pitcher Whisperers. Put him on the curb with a FOR SALE CHEAP sign and see if someone bites. Shop around Alex Cora, cruelly exposed in an everyday role but a smart, tough bench player who deserves to be some contender's Lee Mazzilli.
Or do something else. The next crop of Milledges and Humbers for Adam Dunn? I'd make that trade. Or go fleece the Pirates for their prospects — the Pirates are like the slow kid down the block who can be conned into giving up grimy quarters for mirror-bright nickels. (If you don't take advantage of him, the less-scrupulous kid who lives next door will.)
Be brave, Omar. I know bad PR terrifies your bosses, but they have less to worry about than they think. Don't be afraid that the seats will empty and the press will be brutal. The press is already brutal and trust me, we're not showing up at Citi Field because we think Carlos Delgado might show up five weeks early. Yes, New Yorkers are impatient — but we're also realistic. We know this isn't our year, and we're ready to deal with it. The best thing you can do is stop pretending. Show us you're trying to make next year our year.
Remember: July 21 is the first of three AMAZIN' TUESDAYS. And that Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.