The Mets are about to embark on a brutal stretch of games. The Cards at home lead into road series against the Marlins and Nationals, sandwiched around a trip to Cincinnati to face the Reds' NL-best offense. Now clinging to fourth in the division, the Mets may come home August 1 in last place in the NL East, without Carlos Beltran or Jason Isringhausen or Mike Pelfrey or even Jose Reyes.
And I couldn't be happier.
A year ago today, the Mets were in second place in the NL East with a record of 49-44. A week later, they were firmly ensconced in fourth place and would finish there by years end. This year, the Mets will be lucky to finish in fourth place. They are sitting there now, just a half game ahead of the last place Marlins and a dozen games behind the first place Phils. They are a game below .500. They have scored 9 more runs than they have allowed. They have had win streaks of six games and losing streaks of seven games.
They are aggressively mediocre.
And the fire sale is about to begin.
The great sell-off started in earnest the night of the All-Star game, as the talented but mercurial Francisco Rodriguez was shipped off to Milwaukee. K-Rod was a goner from the beginning of the year, with his contract extension ticking like a time bomb and his crazy behavior at the end of last season hastening his departure. Two other unhappy and overpaid Mets, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, were chucked during spring training.
All-Star Carlos Beltran figures to be out the door in the next week or two after playing himself into trade bait. Current rumors have him going to the first-place (that's right!) Pittsburgh Pirates, the same team that hasn't finished above .500 since Barry Bonds had the same body as Jose Reyes.
At least those Pirates have been defined by their losing, in the same way the Cubs are loveable for their losing ways. At least the Rangers have continued to win while going bankrupt, and at least the Dodgers financial disaster has made for juicy gossip. The Mets have simply combined the pathetic play of the Pirates and Cubs with the financial woes of the Rangers and Dodgers, all while winning juuust enough that management has spent money on quick fixes designed to push the team over the hump.
The hump is now a mountain, and the Mets are at the bottom. There's a long way to the peak.
This is a team that has tried to build for the future with a "win now" mentality, leading to a "lose now" and "no hope on the horizon" reality. The Mets were due to hit rock bottom, any kind of bottom, so that the whole organization could rebuild form the bottom up. And this may finally be the year.
In a way, the Mets current plight reminds me of the New York Knicks of the last decade. They were a laughing stock for so long that it quickly transitioned to sad. Front office drama and lawsuits, a shoddy product on the court and good money thrown after bad lead to an absolute abomination of a professional basketball team. But then Donnie Walsh came in, turned over the entire roster and three years later, the Knicks had two superstars and their first playoff appearance in years.
The Mets are on the same path. While 2006 was a fantastic season, getting so close to the World Series lead to a bloated roster and four years of misery.
Sandy Alderson came in last winter and immediately went about cutting the dead weight. Freeing themselves from K-Rod's financial burden gives them some money to throw at Reyes this winter. Cutting Perez and Castillo allowed Justin Turner and Dillon Gee the playing time they needed, and both look like they may contribute in the future.
The Mets for once have players other teams covet. If they can eat some of Beltran's contract, stockpile some prospects and pick up a few other arms and bats in deals, it will be for the best. David Wright and Johan Santana and Ike Davis will come back healthy next year. Maybe Jason Bay will even figure out how to hit again!
The Mets this year are shedding payroll and getting sleeker, but the fact that they have won as much as they've lost has caused a problem. If this team wins eight out of its next 13 games and is sitting above .500 come July 31, will they hang on to their assets and make a run? Will pressure to win now, desire to fill CitiField and attempting to save face with Mets fans make Alderson go all in for a run in 2011?
A move like that would cripple them for the future. So for the good of the Mets, for 2012 and beyond, let's hope this road trip is a disaster. Let's Go Mets! just not right now.
Evan Schwartz is the newest contributor to Curious Case of Sidd Finch. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_S_S.