David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
Sandy Alderson got his answer.
Two weeks ago, when asked the annual "buyers or sellers" question that arrives with every July, the Mets' general manager punted it to the All-Star break. The Rangers, Braves and Marlins were headed to Citi Field, where in Alderson's mind, the fate of the 2014 season would be decided over that 10-game stretch.
We won't say that going 8-2 to finish the first half is a reason to start printing playoff tickets. Duh. These mini-surges of euphoria for the Mets' tortured fan base too often wind up being like a New Year's Eve party before the head-splitting hangover.
Fun while it lasts. But feeling later that you shouldn't have been such an idiot.
Could this time really be different? If Alderson is to be believed, then yes. He's been telling us for a while that the Mets were better than the record, that the roster was only a piece or two away. We're fairly certain Alderson wasn't still talking about 90 wins -- not after wearing that scarlet number for the past three months. But maybe the idea of contention wasn't so far-fetched anymore.
Now that the Mets have climbed to within five games of .500 (45-50) and seven from the top spot in the National League East, Alderson might want to dust off that 2004 chestnut from Fred Wilpon in setting a goal for "playing meaningful games in September." But right around this point is where it gets tricky for Alderson.
If the Mets were truly in the tank, turning Citi Field into just another Willets Point chop shop would be easy. Bartolo Colon and Daniel Murphy would be goners by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Maybe Dillon Gee too.
Rip apart. Rebuild. Repeat. We've seen it plenty since 2006, the Mets' last playoff appearance, and many figured this would be more of that spin cycle after Matt Harvey was lost to Tommy John surgery.
But in the rapid development of Jacob deGrom, the sudden plate maturation of Travis d'Arnaud and a surprisingly effective young bullpen, the Mets may have sped up the timetable a bit. They're even getting sturdy play from Ruben Tejada, who is batting .281 with a .395 on-base percentage in the 39 games since May 27.
Good thing, too, because it doesn't appear the Cubs are going to be sending a shortstop like Starlin Castro or minor-leaguer Javier Baez to the Mets in the near future. The offseason perhaps, after Alderson has seen more from his pitching prospects, but it doesn't seem like either side is ready for that in the next two weeks.
So what can Alderson do? The determining factor there will be the market for Colon and Murphy, two players that could be very attractive to contending clubs -- and not necessarily cripple the Mets' own chances. Colon's contract, with $11 million coming to him next season, was practically designed to be moved. While he's been a solid placeholder for Harvey, the Mets are now finding others pushing for permanent spots, like deGrom, and before too long, Noah Syndergaard.
The Mets cooled on Syndergaard's arrival this season after two injuries by mid-June, including an elbow scare. But that could change if Syndergaard continues to pitch like he did in his last start July 9, when he struck out eight without a walk in seven innings. At the Futures Game on Sunday, he was throwing 95-97 mph, and flashed a disappearing changeup.
"I feel like the physical part of the game is there," said Syndergaard, who is only 21. "It's just becoming more of a pitcher."
As for Murphy, it's strange that the Mets' lone representative at the All-Star Game may not even be on the team by August. But the argument to deal him may just be too compelling for Alderson to pass up -- peak value, a big arbitration bump this winter and a waiting replacement in Wilmer Flores, who is raking at Triple-A Las Vegas with a .368/.405/896 slash line over his last 10 games, including six homers.
That's not a knock against Murphy, who has been the Mets' most consistent hitter in the first half. Just showing what other forces are at work here. Alderson has some pieces to play with now -- and some of his past moves are paying off.
The Mets won't get him his 90. But they could make Alderson look a lot smarter than we thought back in March.