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Next Year Comes Early

By now I’m not even mad at them.

No, the worst I can manage while watching the Mets stagger around and lose is a weary exasperation. The competitive portion of the 2010 season is nearing its end, and whatever disappointment I felt over that has dissipated by now. You never know, as baseball sages will tell you, but sometimes you can make a pretty educated guess: The Mets don’t have the horses to stay in this thing. I know it, you know it, and the Mets themselves know it.

Which is not the end of the world. Really, it isn’t. Provided the Mets don’t spend the next two months trying to put one over on us, it could even be a good thing.

Tonight belonged to the past tense awful quick, as the Mets were quickly awful [1]. There was Johan Santana struggling with the first inning again, Luis Castillo botching a double play, Angel Pagan juggling a transfer, and Carlos Beltran looking very sluggish in turning a single into a double. Then it was a sad parade of pop-outs and grounders until Billy Wagner walked off the field triumphant, dropping the Mets to .500. If .500 seems dispiriting, just wait: It will be a minor miracle if they end this firing squad of a road trip at that level.

So enough about tonight.

Look, despite the usual blaring New York headlines, the Mets were absolutely right not to make a move at the deadline, unless you count trading Mike Jacobs for Someone Who Isn’t Mike Jacobs as of note. My biggest fear was that Omar would try to save his own battered skin with Kazmir for Zambrano II, shipping out Josh Thole or Jenrry Mejia or Wilmer Flores or even Fernando Martinez for some middle-of-the-rotation starter who wouldn’t move the needle in any meaningful way. (Let’s be generous and assume that not doing so was an act of responsibility, instead of speculating that it was cheapness or a failure to execute whatever plan was formulated.)

The 2010 Mets’ streakiness has hid that they’re pretty much what we figured they’d be back in March: an OK team with a good core and lousy complementary players. But they’re more or less healthy, and they play hard, and while they may be a disappointment right now, they’ve never been an embarrassment the way the ’07 and ’08 teams were at the bitter end and the ’09 team was from midsummer on. In fact, they offer plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future: Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Angel Pagan, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, R.A. Dickey and Ruben Tejada have been great fun to get acquainted with and cheer for and wonder about. Going into this year, I figured the Mets would struggle in 2010 and then fall off a cliff in 2011. Now, I think I was half-right — and I’m very happy about where I was mistaken. Give the aforementioned players some more seasoning, add them to David Wright and Jose Reyes and a healthier Carlos Beltran and a more relaxed Jason Bay and Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, and I feel pretty good about the starting point of 2011.

Which isn’t to say that the Mets should sit around and wait for next year. They can reward our faith by starting to position themselves as well as possible for the 2011 season. A deplorable amount of time was wasted in 2010 on the likes of Jacobs, Gary Matthews Jr., Frank Catalanotto and a too-young Mejia. A deplorable amount of time is being wasted on the likes of Luis Castillo, Alex Cora, Jeff Francoeur and Oliver Perez now.

It’s not realistic to expect the Mets to excise all four of those guys, not to mention Omar and Jerry Manuel. But I would like to see them make two moves that would clearly show us that the team won’t continue penalizing us for its own mistakes: Dump Castillo and Perez posthaste.

Castillo’s inability to do anything of use to a major-league team was once again on sad display tonight: Even if you believe in ancient canards about wasting the No. 2 spot in the lineup on a banjo hitter with bat control, Castillo’s lack of range is a liability that will continue to kill this team until the final minute of his unfortunate contract. And do I even need to make the argument about Perez? Very well: I will be astonished if Oliver Perez ever has three good starts in a row, and promise not to blame the Mets even one little bit if he somehow does.

Those would be expensive displays of penance, I know — just as I know it’s not my money. But they would send the right signals about where this club is going, and reassure us that better days are coming sooner than we might think.