David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Those expecting Starlin Castro in a Mets uniform for Saturday night's game no doubt were disappointed when they saw Ruben Tejada standing on his usual dirt patch at Citi Field. Apparently, the blockbuster trade between the A's and Cubs had people thinking a shortstop soon could be flipped to Flushing now that Theo Epstein has been stockpiling them on the North Side.
We understand the logic. With the Cubs sending Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for a prospect-laden package that included highly touted shortstop Addison Russell, the infield could start to get crowded at Wrigley -- especially with Castro only in Season 2 of a seven-year, $60-million contract.
While it's true the Cubs are deep at short -- Russell joins the promising Javier Baez already in the system -- it doesn't appear as though the Mets are targeting the suddenly expendable Castro as a quick fix for their own issues at the position.
When Castro's name was brought up Saturday to a Mets official, the first reaction -- as you may have guessed -- centered on his on-base percentage, which at .335 is a bit light for their liking. Tejada entered Saturday at .345.
But what about the 11 homers? And the .472 slugging, which by the way ranks second behind only Troy Tulowitzki (.608) among qualified National League shortstops?
Hey, we hear you. But Sandy Alderson repeatedly has stressed what he's hoping to do with this group from an offensive mindset, the type of hitters he wants to acquire. And the Mets don't seem prepared to take on an investment like the $49 million left on Castro's contract if it's not a perfect fit.
Extreme? Maybe. But the Mets also don't envision a mad rush for Castro this month, not for a player signed through 2019, and they'd like to see how some of their own minor-leaguers perform during the remainder of this season before making any big decisions. And yes, any decision involving $49 million is a big decision.
One player the Mets keep trumpeting is the recently promoted Matt Reynolds, a second-round pick who is splitting time at shortstop for Triple-A Las Vegas and hitting .400/.443/.582 in his first 15 games. For a longer sample size, Reynolds went .355/.430/.422 in 58 games for Double-A Binghamton.
Alderson said Friday night that he doesn't anticipate making a deal before the All-Star break, which begins July 13. But the Mets certainly will be entertaining offers for Bartolo Colon in the weeks leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, especially with Samardzija and Hammel already off the market. Colon has roughly $4.2 million left on this year's contract, and the Mets don't believe the $11 million he's due in 2015 will deter potential trade partners.
Beyond Colon, however, the Mets seem reluctant to get too involved in the pre-July 31 mania -- in part because they don't see a huge demand for young, controllable pitchers untested by a playoff race. Not at this time of year, when contenders are looking to load up for the stretch run -- and presumably into October. That's what prompted the A's to pull the trigger for Samardzija, who will be a free agent after 2015, and Hammel, who is in his walk year.
The Mets just don't have a ton of desirable pieces at the major-league level to auction off, other than Colon, Daniel Murphy and Jon Niese. Colon didn't help his marketability Saturday night by allowing eight hits and five runs in seven innings against the Rangers, a start that jacked up his ERA from 3.88 to 4.05.
As for Niese, any thought of dangling him hit a snag Saturday night because of the possibility that he will have to go on the disabled list with an undisclosed shoulder injury. If Niese is out of the mix for a while, it will be a severe blow to the rotation and could make for some rough sledding in the second half if Colon eventually is dealt. But without a clear direction, it's difficult to characterize the Mets' intentions during this trade season.
"This wasn't going to be an overnight snap-your-fingers and win 100 games," David Wright said. "Obviously, we're trying to win now. But we're trying to win in the future, too. We're trying to build something that is sustainable year-in and year-out."
The Mets aren't there yet. And we'll see if they use the next few weeks to speed up the process.