With the New York Mets fielding a mediocre and depleted lineup this season, it is nothing short of a miracle that they are still in contention. However, general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins must not confuse being in contention with being a contender.
On Sunday June 22 the Mets are five games out of first place in the NL East as they sit at the bottom of the division. This is a very dangerous and familiar position. Ten years ago at this time, the team was in an almost identical position. The Mets were not a very good team, but somehow hung around in a very crowded division race. With only six games separating them from the Atlanta Braves, GM Jim Duquette took a gamble that still haunts the team to this day. On July 31, 2004, Duquette traded the team’s top pitching prospect, Scott Kazmir, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for starting pitcher Victor Zambrano. The Mets ultimately finished with a losing record as the Braves captured another NL East title and Kazmir has had more All-Star seasons so far than Zambrano had full seasons with the Mets.
The Kazmir fiasco of 2004 should serve as a cautionary tale for the organization as the team is still in mathematical contention with the trade deadline just over a month away. The Mets need to either sell or hold at this year’s deadline. Any bold move on the part of Alderson would be a foolish risk with potentially dire consequences. If the Mets are to make any trades at the deadline this season, it should be to move a successful veteran such as Bartolo Colon to a contender as a means of creating an opportunity for a younger player and rewarding the veteran for his contributions and good example with a chance at a postseason run. All together now: this is a throwaway season for the Mets. Alderson and company can call it any other euphemism that makes them feel better, but this is not a contending season and the Mets should not pretend to be contenders when it comes to making decisions on the field or in the front office.
The 2014 campaign is the team’s opportunity to evaluate and test their young players. The fact that Collins pulled Mejia in favor of the veteran Dana Eveland after getting into a jam on Wednesday was detrimental to what should be the team’s goal this season. Mejia has struggled with giving up runs in the month of June, but still should have been given opportunity to prove he can convert a save opportunity under pressure.
For the Mets, the 2014 regular season should be an exercise in patience and restraint as their time to be a contender is not now, but sometime in the foreseeable future.