By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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On July 2 the Mets were dead and buried.
They had just lost four straight games to the Braves, were 11 games under .500 and sat double-digit games out of first place. There was no reason to believe that things would get any better anytime soon.
Then the Amazin’s returned home for their final homestand before the All-Star break and caught fire. They went 8-2 over the 10-game stretch, taking two of three from the Rangers, three of four from the Braves and three in a row from the Marlins.
New York finished the season’s first half 45-50, seven games out of first in the National League East and seven games out of the second NL wild card berth.
This team still has a ton of ground to cover and a lot of teams to leapfrog. But believe it or not, it’s still breathing.
As presently constituted, the Mets are not good enough to make a run in the second half. The starting pitching and bullpen have both been excellent, and should continue to be. But the offense, which has clicked on all cylinders over the last week-and-a-half, can’t be counted on to produce consistently on a nightly basis.
That’s why general manager Sandy Alderson needs to roll up his sleeves, get on the phone and acquire a bat that can solidify the lineup.
I’m not advocating for Alderson to mortgage the future, but after five losing seasons it’s time to take a chance. With a surplus of talented pitcher, this organization can afford to ship a big-time arm (or two) — be it a top prospect or a veteran — in a package for a stellar hitter.
No, I don’t want to see Jon Niese or Dillon Gee go. And I want Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler to be staples of the starting rotation for years to come. But it’s time for this front office to take a serious chance and go for the gold. Hurlers such as Rafael Montero, Jack Leathersich and Steven Matz are also valuable trade chips.
An obvious — and ideal — fit for the Mets is Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. He’s one of the best middle-of-the-order bats in the league and plays exceptional defense. Most importantly, New York likely has the pieces to get him. The Rockies (40-55) figure to be sellers at the trade deadline, and Tulo could be on the block.
The four-time All-Star is having an MVP-type season, batting .345 with 21 homers, 52 RBIs and a .435 on-base percentage. His home-road splits aren’t pretty, but the 29-year-old has proven that he can hit — and hit well — away from Coors Field. He’s under contract until 2020 and, after 2014, is owed a minimum of $118 million. Of course it would ultimately come down to whether the Wilpons would be willing to open their wallets and commit big bucks to Tulowitzki. But the two-time Gold Glove Award winner would instantly be the shortstop of the future and the best player on the team.
Imagine a lineup consisting of David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Tulowitzki, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, a coming-into-his-own Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud 2.0. Just like that, the Mets would be able to score runs with any team in baseball.
Making such a move would not only help the Mets in the second half and keep them relevant — all the while putting butts in the seats, I might add — but it would put them in excellent position moving forward.
I’m not about to begin suggesting potential trade proposals for such studs as Tulo, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gonzalez. It’s not my job. Trades are supposed to be Alderson’s bread and butter, and he and his supposedly brilliantly lieutenants get paid to evaluate and measure risk versus reward. Part of building a sustainable championship team, of course, is taking calculated risks.
Other possible trade targets include Starlin Castro, Allen Craig and Matt Kemp. (The Dodgers would have to eat a huge portion of Kemp’s contract to make a deal work.) These players would cost less and wouldn’t merely be rentals, but rather fixtures in Queens for the long haul.
Sure, Alderson could wait until free agency for the sake of not parting with assets. But the GM doesn’t have a good track record with major free agents, with Granderson being the only high-priced signing of his tenure. And unlike in years past, successful teams aren’t built though free agency anymore. Between more teams inking players to long-term extensions and a reduction in PED use, there are far fewer options on the market, and the big names available tend to be leaving their respective primes (see the Yankees).
The Mets have some momentum heading into the second half, and things are actually looking up. They desperately need offensive firepower to complement their steady pitching, and the way to land a young, impact player under team control is via trade.
There’s no reason to wait anymore. We’ve waited long enough.
Make your move, Sandy, and let’s see what this club can do.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.
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