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Winning, Mets not thinking fire sale yet
When the Yankees arrived at Citi Field this weekend, they didn’t see a “For Sale” sign atop the home dugout.
A month ago, the trade speculation surrounding this team was so thick that I figured at least one of the Mets’ stars would be playing for someone else by now. Instead, the principals are (presently) as integral to the organization as Mr. Met himself.
Reyes, Beltran and K-Rod all were on hand for the latest installment of the Subway Series because their team has played decently — and sometimes spectacularly — over the past several weeks. The Mets were crummy in April (11-16), respectable in May (14-13), and downright impressive in June (16-11). The result is a winning record (41-40) at the season’s statistical midpoint.
The odds are still in favor of the Mets trading one star, and probably more, over the next couple months. But they haven’t had to do it yet, and there’s a fair chance that the trades won’t start for several more weeks.
In Flushing, the Fourth of July weekend meant fireworks, not a fire sale. Mets fans were able to look their Yankees counterparts in the eye on the 7 train this weekend.
There are small victories in that.
On Thursday, after the Mets completed their third straight series win (Oakland, Texas, Detroit), Reyes seemed to summarize the sentiment of the organization and its fans: “Right now, we’re feeling good.”
To be clear, the Mets are “competitive” but not a true “contender.” There are real, tangible, baseball reasons to explain why the Phillies and Braves still have such comfortable leads over the New Yorkers in the division and wild-card races. Chiefly, the Mets lack the rotation strength to go on the type of run that would be necessary to overtake their better, deeper rivals.
Still, this team is intriguing and endearing in a Mets sort of way. First-year manager Terry Collins is the right amount of folksy for the Big City. He dropped a “cripes” during one postgame news conference this week. He casually addresses beat reporters by their first names, and his demeanor defies the uptight caricature that had followed him around for years.
The players have shattered stereotypes, too. Early in the season, it seemed likely that they would buckle beneath a number of significant injuries — Wright, starters Johan Santana and Chris Young, first baseman Ike Davis — and begin counting the days to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Not so.
“To say they’re not a good team, or whatever the press was saying at the beginning of the year, is definitely inconsistent with what we just saw,” said Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch, whose team was outscored by the Mets, 32-17, in a three-game series last week. “They were swinging the bats extremely well the whole time. They put good swings on Ver (Justin Verlander). They’ve got guys up and down the lineup — and they don’t even have Wright or Ike Davis.”
The Mets are entertaining right now — which is a good thing, particularly in New York. As long as they have the superstar sparkplug Reyes, as long as they can purport to being involved in the wild-card race, the Mets should be able to hold their fans’ attention during this locked-out summer.
I should add, though, that attendance at Citi Field hasn’t been great. In fact, it’s down about 3,000 fans per game compared to last year. The average gate of 29,905 ranks just 13th in the majors. That’s a curious position for a team based in the nation’s largest city, even if That Other Stadium looms in another borough.
And this would be a good time to mention that the Mets rank higher in payroll (cash out) than attendance (cash in). Then there is the as-yet-unresolved matter of the Bernie Madoff bankruptcy proceedings. A settlement could cost owner Fred Wilpon hundreds of millions of dollars. So, for this franchise, money matters more than ever.
Between now and the end of the season, Beltran, Rodriguez and Reyes will combine to earn roughly $24 million — or about $2 million per week. (And that doesn’t include K-Rod’s tricky vesting option for 2012 based on finishing 55 games.) Assuming the option doesn’t vest, all three will be free agents after this season.
And so the team’s ownership and management must answer that $2 million question, time after time: Are those three players going to give us $2 million in value this week — by drawing fans to the ballpark, enticing people to watch games on television, and improving whatever (small) chance we have to make the postseason?
Once the answer is no — and if Reyes sticks to his public pledge not to negotiate an extension during the season — then the trades should begin. Sure, it may help the Mets’ organizational ego to say that they hope to re-sign Reyes after this season. But if last year’s free-agent market was any guide, the modern player rarely gives special preference to his most recent employer when the tens of millions start flying like one of those cash-grab machines. Hollow hubris is a luxury the Mets can’t afford in their current state.
Beltran and Rodriguez could be dealt during the August waiver period, because of their hefty contracts. Reyes is a different case. At less than $2 million per month, there’s no way his contract would go unclaimed. So, there is one month and counting for general manager Sandy Alderson to make his move.
The Reds and Giants are interested, but they will need to wait. For the Mets to trade Reyes and avoid a public-relations fiasco, the deal must happen at the right time. This is not it. The team is playing too well, and Reyes is too captivating.
The Mets’ upcoming schedule — Dodgers and Giants on the road, Phillies at home — sounds like a 3-10 free-fall waiting to happen. If it does, then a Reyes trade becomes more politically tenable. But if they go 10-3, well, then the idea of Reyes sticking around until the end of the season won’t sound so absurd after all.
For now, at least we can say this: In a city that doesn’t wait, Collins and his upstarts have almost singlehandedly delayed the grand opening of the midsummer trade market. As distinctions go, that doesn’t look great on a banner for the center-field flagpole. But for this team, this year, it’s an achievement worth celebrating. I wonder if the Yankees will tip their caps.
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