The Mets and Omar Minaya got off the canvas in the Rockies series, but they weren't able to throw a punch at the trade deadline. So unless at least two of Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado come back from injury in the next two weeks, it's time to throw in the towel on 2009.
Maybe the injury news is better than we sense. Yes, Carlos Beltran took batting practice Thursday and said he's about two weeks away from returning. But what's he going to say? Delgado's status seems even murkier, though he's reportedly further along in rehab than Beltran. Reyes isn't even running the bases yet. My over under on the number of these guys to return by Aug. 15 is one. And one is not going to be enough.
The frustrating thing for Mets fans is that catcher Victor Martinez was there for the taking. The cost reportedly was one of two Double-A pitchers Brad Holt or Jenrry Mejia plus Jon Niese. I'm sure the Indians would have thrown the Mets back Carl Pavano for this year -- and you can't tell me that Niese is a better short-term option than Pavano.
Holt and Mejia have big arms, but the chance of the best Double-A arms' developing according to plans is 30 percent, tops. Niese's upside is more marginal. It's as a No. 3 big league starter, according to National League scouts I've spoken to who like him most. And remember, Holt and Mejia have really raised their stock this year. Mejia started the year as the Mets' No. 9 prospect, according to Baseball America, and that was in a system that was poorly graded. Holt has one plus pitch right now, his fastball, and might not need to be moved to the bullpen ultimately.
Mets fans should be excited about Holt and Mejia, I will stipulate. But to be clear, reports are that only one of these guys was requested along with Niese.
Even if Delgado comes back, Martinez could have caught. Those operating on the assumption that Omir Santos is a good bet to continue his .719 OPS are delusional. Brian Schneider's OPS is .680, about what we'd expect given his career rate (.700). Martinez's OPS this year is .832, exactly his career rate. Park factors would not have been huge, as Progressive Field plays for pitchers most years.
Then, next year, the Mets would have had a first baseman at a bargain price ($7 million club option) to replace Delgado, whose contract expires. Martinez, who will be 31 on Dec. 28, is also likely to hit better as a first baseman than at catcher, given the physical demands of the latter position.
Pavano's contract is complicated with $5.3 million in performance bonuses, most of which he'll hit, but at most he would have added about $1.5 million to the payroll. Adding to the payroll, though, seems to be a no-go for ownership and the front office.
You can argue that Martinez would have moved David Murphy out. I like Murphy, but that's not a deal-breaker for me. He can be a bat off the bench and then you move him next season if there's a logjam. You always have the option of moving Martinez to catcher in 2009, too, though his throwing ability is at the Mike Piazza level.
To be fair, Minaya said Thursday that the trade deadline isn't the real deadline because players can be acquired through Aug. 31. But those players have to clear waivers and do so only when no one wants them, usually because they are old and overpaid.
Unless the Mets have a much stronger belief that Holt and Mejia are future big league stars than any of the scouts or Minor League analysts that I've spoken to this year, you have to believe that money was the biggest obstacle to these deals. There's also the replacement cost of getting two rotation arms in about 2010-2011 to replace Holt and Mejia, should they make it. If things go perfectly, as they almost never do, those two guys will be very cheap starters throughout their arbitration years.
Teams that are budget-conscious, as the Mets now seem to be, rarely make a big splash between the non-waiver deadline and the Aug. 31 cutoff.