David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
A year ago, around this time, the Mets routinely used lineups that featured John Mayberry, Danny Muno and Darrell Ceciliani.
But as overwhelmed as that broken team often appeared to be in mid-June, those Mets scored more runs than this season’s fractured roster through the first 62 games — and also sat atop the National League East.
Could it be that the ’16 Mets, at the same juncture, actually are in worse shape? After watching Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to Pirates, when Jameson Taillon no-hit them for six innings, it’s worth asking.
Having Yoenis Cespedes clearly gives these Mets the edge. But with a number of key injuries making the NL champs look like impostors, even the unflappable Sandy Alderson has to be bit nervous.
And poor Terry Collins. A day after being released from a Milwaukee hospital, the manager was forced to cobble together a flimsy lineup with Alejando De Aza (.181) leading off, Curtis Granderson hitting third (.218) and Kelly Johnson (231) protecting Cespedes in the fifth spot.
“If you think I’m going to criticize my lineup, you’re talking to the wrong guy,” Collins said afterward. “I’m not going to sit here and complain about it.”
Those Mayberry jokes aren’t so funny anymore. At least the Mayberry Mets had a 1 1⁄2 -game lead over the Nationals at this point last year. The ’16 Mets already are looking at a five-game deficit, and feel just as desperate for outside help — if not more so — than they did last season.
Alderson spent nearly 20 minutes before Tuesday’s game detailing the medical status of a half-dozen players, the most serious being David Wright, who now is considering surgery to repair the herniated disc in his neck. In reality, Wright’s prognosis is the least of the Mets’ concerns.
The best-case scenario, without surgery, has Wright returning in September, making third base the most logical area for the Mets to upgrade. Alderson expects to have a “resolution” for the Wright situation by the end of this week, and maybe that will prod him to be more aggressive on the trade front. The GM didn’t sound like he’d be in the market for Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gourriel, who was proclaimed eligible Tuesday, mostly because Alderson doesn’t go for the big-money dice rolls.
“The difficulty with finding a full-time replacement is the uncertainty surrounding David,” Alderson said. “But secondly, is the availability. This is not the time of year when full-time third baseman — other than the aforementioned Cuban — are typically available. So we march on.”
Wright is only one of the dominoes. There is Lucas Duda’s fractured vertebrae, Travis d’Arnaud’s healing rotator cuff, Michael Conforto’s aching wrist and Neil Walker’s sore back. The assumption is d’Arnaud could return by next Tuesday, with Duda to follow around the All-Star break. Conforto and Walker were available as pinch hitters Tuesday night, as was Juan Lagares, who didn’t start because of emergency dental work.
A full recovery from those players could spark a turnaround. But the Mets can’t keep treading water while the Nationals add to their lead in the division. Last season, the Mets traded four minor-league pitchers, including top prospect Michael Fulmer, to fortify their roster with Cespedes, Johnson, Juan Uribe and Tyler Clippard. Those moves enabled them to get to the World Series.
Alderson wants a chance to evaluate his recovering players before going that same route again this year. But at this rate, the Mets could dig themselves a considerable hole by then. Another problem is their depleted minor-league ranks. The Tigers wouldn’t accept anyone other than Fulmer for Cespedes, and it’s going to take top talent again for the Mets to secure a game-changer. Expect Zack Wheeler to again be involved in this years’s trade conversations.
“I still think we have the prospects, if necessary, in our system to move,” Alderson said. “And from a financial standpoint, I think we also have the means necessary.”
If Alderson is waiting for a reason, he should have that too after a few more losses like Tuesday.