By Brad Kallet
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The saying goes that when one door closes, another one opens.
The same is true in baseball: When one window slams shut, another becomes ajar.
As in life, it’s not always a pleasant experience, nor is it particularly fun to watch or witness. It seems that the Mets are about to experience such a transitional period.
Nearly two months into the season, New York, which had World Series aspirations when 2017 began, is a miserable 18-24. Thanks to the advent of the second wild card, the Mets are not out of it yet. They are just 6 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with 120 to play.
Still, this is some hole they’ve dug themselves, and they’ll be hard-pressed to climb their way out of it. Even if the Mets do make the postseason, which is highly unlikely, is this really a championship club? At the moment, they look more like a fourth-place team than one that can challenge for much of anything significant.
It’s safe to say that, barring a miracle, this short window has closed for the Mets. They missed their opportunity in 2015, in a World Series that they had every chance to win, and injuries cost them their shot last year.
Injuries have debilitated Terry Collins’ team again in 2017, but they’re no excuse. The bottom line is that this Mets team is too fragile, too old, too unathletic, too slow, too error-prone, too streaky and too all-or-nothing. The bullpen is awful, the starting pitching is hurt and overrated, and the offense is past its prime.
That about covers it, doesn’t it?
It has been difficult to come to grips with this over the past few weeks of miserable baseball and heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss. On numerous occasions I came close to writing a fiery postmortem on the season and the organization’s window, but I ultimately opted against it. There was just no point in doing so; if you were paying any attention at all, you couldn’t miss it.
No, the season’s not over yet — it’s not even June, after all — but I’ve decided to look towards the future, which could be promising if the scouts are as intelligent as we believe them to be.
The Mets need to get younger, more athletic and more fundamentally sound. They need to shed some dead weight, for lack of a better term. What’s working in general manager Sandy Alderson’s favor is the fact that most of the team’s underperforming, overpriced “stars” will soon be off the books.
Curtis Granderson was a terrific Met who helped turn this organization from a laughingstock into a contender, but his best years are behind him. The 36-year-old, batting .169 with a .237 OBP and earning $15 million, will be a free agent after the season. Jose Reyes, a .205 hitter who has lost more than a step on both sides of the ball, won’t be a Met next season. (His $535,000 salary is hardly a drop in the Wilpons’ bucket, though.) Lucas Duda, having a second consecutive unproductive year (.206 with four home runs) is making $7.25 million and is set to become a free agent.
Neil Walker (31 years old), Jay Bruce (30) and Asdrubal Cabrera (31) are still fairly productive players, but they’re on the wrong side of 30 and gradually leaving their primes. Those three, making a combined $38.45 million — the Mets have an $8.5 million team option on Cabrera for 2018 — might very well not be back. If the Mets are out of contention in July, Alderson would be wise to deal them for future contributors. All three still have plenty of value, especially to teams that are desperate to return to the postseason.
The David Wright contract is still a killer. Will we ever see him on the field again? Yet, Alderson will have plenty of money to play with to improve the bullpen, strengthen the defense, sign more well-rounded position players and add starting-rotation insurance.
Speaking of the starting rotation, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey will all still be under contract through 2018. Will they pitch to their potential and stay healthy? We’ll never know, but the bottom line is that you want those guys on your roster, especially considering the team-friendly contracts they’re under.
The most exciting parts of this new window, though, cost Alderson nothing. They haven’t even been in Queens, yet.
Shortstop Amed Rosario, 21, is currently the third-best prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. Branded as an elite defender and a premier hitter — he’s currently dominating at Triple-A Las Vegas, to the tune of a .360 average with four homers, 13 doubles, three triples, 31 RBIs and eight stolen bases — he could debut with the Mets this season. If not, he’ll certainly be called up for the start of 2018.
Dominic Smith, MLB.com’s 55th-ranked prospect, is a terrific contact hitter who has blended a high average with some pop during his minor league career. The soon-to-be 22-year-old has also been touted for his excellent defensive skills at first base. Smith (.320 with five homers and 27 RBIs at Triple-A) could also get the call at some point this season. If he doesn’t, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t replace Duda as the starting first baseman in 2018.
Rosario and Smith will make up a new core that will include Michael Conforto, who has been the Mets’ best player this season. The 24-year-old left fielder is hitting .320 with 11 homers and a .412 OBP.
Then there is Yoenis Cespedes, who is still the cleanup hitter and anchor of the lineup. The Cuban slugger, currently on the disabled list but set to return soon, has three more years on his contract after 2017, and it’s hard to imagine that his power and arm will fade significantly over that span.
The next time the Mets suffer a crushing defeat — we almost saw one for the ages on Saturday night, and you know more are coming in the weeks ahead — remind yourself that another window is in the process of opening.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet