Two days ago, ESPN ran a piece by Christopher Cwik suggesting that the move for the Mets is to go all-in now. In short, Cwik’s argument centered around the fact that the Mets’ three best players are not only past their primes, but are enjoying successes they are unlikely to repeat. Cwik expressed concern over Santana’s ability to keep up his shockingly strong return from shoulder surgery, Dickey’s ability as a knuckleballer to replicate the hot streak he’s on, and Wright’s ability to remain healthy, nevermind a Met. Further, Cwik asserted that the teams vying for the lower-barrier-to-entry playoffs are all severely flawed. He concluded his piece by suggesting that were a big name player to become available, likely Zack Greinke of the Brewers, the Mets ought not hesitate to part with Zack Wheeler or Matt Harvey.
While many of Cwik’s points are sound regarding the unlikely successes of this year’s team and the relatively weak field, his conclusions are not. Let’s start with the players. Santana has been up to his usual tricks this season, something no one expected. As things are now, Santana has shown no signs of slowing down and has been remarkably consistent. His lowest ERA for any of the season’s first three months was a 3.09 mark in May. He is on pace to finish with a career low in home runs allowed over a full season, the only knock anyone had against him for years, while his WHIP and strikeout rate are the best they’ve been since his inaugural year wearing the blue and orange. This isn’t all to say there aren’t concerns, fatigue will settle in and we’ll find out how strong that shoulder is, but there is no reason to be writing him off, even at age 33. When it comes to ace #2, R.A. Dickey, there are even fewer concerns. No, I do not expect him to keep up his sterling numbers but even a regression towards his numbers of the last two years would still make him a solid #2 starter. While his strikeout rate is far higher this year than those last two years, his home run and walk rates are on par. Additionally, despite being 37, he has started only 122 games and pitched fewer than 1,000 innings in his career. All that, and the knowledge that the strain on a knuckleballer is notoriously less severe than that of his harder-throwing counterparts, is quite encouraging. The biggest question mark of the three players Cwik expresses concern over is surely Wright. The fact is I don’t see him remaining a Met in the long-term. I also can’t say I blame him. I think he will stay healthy and I think he is a top-5 third baseman, but I don’t think he will stick around to wait for our prospects to mature. No one wants to see him go, but no one will blame him if he does.
The relative weakness of the field this year has been a major boon to the Mets. The Phillies are entirely out of sorts, the Marlins forgot how to play baseball for a month, and the Braves have been up and down all year with injuries. The Marlins are already showing signs of turning things around while the Braves are a much better team than the Mets when healthy. Much. Even with the Phillies’ window appearing closed, the Mets are at best the 3rd strongest team in the division and have been the beneficiaries of a considerable amount of luck themselves. Their run differential is the lowest, save for the anemic Bucs and Dodgers, of anyone with their winning percentage or higher and considerably lower than many teams with a worse percentage, particularly when considering the much stronger American League teams. Further, it is unlikely that their league-leading 2-out production will remain at such a high level. These factors have manifested themselves in an incredibly streaky team. Since June 1st, the Mets have had four winning streaks of at least three games as well as four losing streaks of at least three games. With no power in the lineup (even a fully healthy one) and no consistency in the bullpen, the Mets have little capacity to sustain true long-term success.
Finally, the idea that the Mets would be well-suited to auction off Wheeler or Harvey is preposterous and precisely the short-sighted logic that got us here in the first place. Dealing Wheeler would render the much-heralded Beltran move of yesteryear worthless, and let us not forget that exactly no one is unaware of the season he’s having for St. Louis. While Harvey is not quite as valuable, he is the kind of middle-of-the-road arm we need for the depth we never have. Moreover, the Mets are not one player away from separating themselves from the pack, and Zack Greinke is low on the list of desirable targets. Aside from concerns over his ability to pitch in a big market, a lefty reliever and righty power bat are surely bigger needs at the moment than the rotation, which has been stellar all season.
As badly as I want to see this aging core do something, I want to see our up and comers do something more. While a playoff berth would be fantastic, and that may happen with or without a major move at the deadline, this team is not a deadline deal away from doing damage in the playoffs. The fan base is invigorated now. Ike and Duda are playing well. Tejada is exceeding everyone’s expectations (.353 since returning from the DL). And the team has rallied behind their pair of aces. A regression next year ought to be expected, but to take a shot at 2012 at the price of 2014, when Harvey and Wheeler will surely both be up, reeks of the quick trigger that lost us Kazmir so many years ago. Patience and the excellent managerial skills of Terry Collins have brought unexpected success thus far. To abandon it now would typical of the Mets but then again, so is mediocrity. The Mets need to break their own trend and stay the course, resisting the urge to pull a Cwik trigger.