Grim reality for Mets: It's almost time to sell
In a nearly empty stadium, they were easy to spot. A group of scouts sitting behind home plate at Citi Field, their radar guns and keen senses pointed at the Mets and Brewers.
Some represented teams the Mets will play in upcoming series. Others made the trek to Flushing to begin the process of helping their contending clubs decide how and when to pick the bones of non-contending teams before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
As of now, the Mets are a non-contending team. But some of their players still might taste the sweet nectar of October baseball, as Marlon Byrd did last season after the Mets shipped him to Pittsburgh in a deal that brought back Vic Black.
This year? There's Jon Niese, Thursday night's starting pitcher. There's Daniel Murphy, Thursday night's surprise leadoff man. There's Bartolo Colon, Friday night's starter against the Padres.
The Mets don't have much else to offer. ("Chris Young?" "No, thanks.") But trade-deadline excitement may be all that's left for Mets fans in 2014.
Sorry, we can't get jazzed up about anything that's going on with the club right now. They are what they are -- a sub-.500 team without enough talent or money to be interesting.
Paying customers apparently agree. The announced attendance for the Mets' 5-1, 13-inning loss to Milwaukee was 22,155. This series produced the second-lowest and lowest attendance figures of the season.
Maybe the relentlessly promoted postgame 50 Cent concert Saturday will help bring fans in. Of course, better baseball is the real key to making sure Mets tickets don't soon go for 50 cents on the resale market.
What is there to look forward to? Matt Harvey is not walking through the door in August. Noah Syndergaard is stalled on the Triple-A disabled list. Travis d'Arnaud has been d'moted.
So poor Terry Collins had to sit there and explain with enthusiasm why Murphy was his choice to bat leadoff. Collins talked about a Murphy-Bobby Abreu tandem as something appealing and not just another dart he threw at the wall.
"The idea is, you've got to try something," Collins said.
While Collins tries something, Sandy Alderson and his lieutenants have to be focusing on July 31 and what they can extract from other organizations.
If that sounds like an unsexy "wait-till-next-year" strategy, well, that's the reality the Mets are facing. Without a surge in the next six weeks, they should be aggressive sellers.
Niese, who allowed one run in 72/3 innings to lower his ERA to 2.54, could be attractive because of his team-friendly contract, which includes reasonable options through 2018. The strength of the Mets is starting pitching, and with Dillon Gee on the mend, Niese could bring back a multi-player package and be replaced from within.
A contender probably would appreciate Niese's feistiness, which he exhibited with what appeared to be an expletive when Collins came out to remove him.
Or the Mets could deal Colon, who has been less than they expected when they signed him for two years and $20 million ($9 million this year, $11 million next year -- a clue as to the Mets' intentions?)
Murphy, who went 1-for-5 with a walk and is batting .303 with five homers and 25 RBIs, is a professional hitter and a passable infielder. He is likely to be too pricey for the Mets next season, when he will command a sizable raise from his $5.7-million salary.
Alderson has gotten Zack Wheeler, Syndergaard, Black and d'Arnaud back in trades for veterans. The scouts loved all four -- and probably will love whomever the Mets acquire this time around, too. Scouts love talent, and the Mets simply need more of it.