David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
CHICAGO - Troy Tulowitzki, the Holy Grail of big-hitting shortstops, would appear to be the quick-fix solution to the Mets' offensive woes, a significant flaw that may cost them the NL East lead before long.
And with the malfunctioning Rockies sinking like a stone in the West, Tulo should be available sooner rather than later. While this pairing is talk-radio gold, the real-life implications of trading for Tulo have the Mets resistant to such a deal in the immediate future, a source said Wednesday.
Not impossible, mind you. Because situations, along with asking prices, can be fluid from week to week. And the Mets' 2-1 loss Wednesday night to the Cubs, a brutal defeat that wasted Matt Harvey's nine-strikeout performance in seven scoreless innings, featured another no-show by the bats.
The Tulo question has come up again after the New York Post reported he is scheduled to sit down with his agent Friday to talk about demanding a trade out of Colorado. The fact they're meeting is a strong indication which way Tulo (.786 OPS, 2 HRs, 11 RBIs) is leaning already. The Mets, who have been linked to Tulo since February, cannot publicly discuss another team's player because of tampering rules.
But their internal thinking remains the same as it was during the winter. They are not willing to part with any of their promising young starters, a list that includes the obvious candidates: Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Even if that hurdle could be cleared, the Rockies still would have to pick up a significant chunk of the $114 million Tulo is owed through 2020.
On the surface, those parameters don't make the Mets a great trade partner for Colorado, despite shortstop being the most logical spot for an instant upgrade to the offense. Pretty soon, the Mets will need to ask themselves how long they can keep wasting solid pitching performances. The rotation's 3.04 ERA is the best in the majors, but the Mets have scored three runs or fewer in 12 of their last 15 games and are 6-9 during that stretch after starting the season 14-5. Their division lead also has slipped to 1 games, the smallest margin since April 19.
"It's always hard to lose a tough game like that, especially when Matt pitched a great game," Terry Collins said. "We're just not giving any of our guys any room to wiggle."
The Mets' .651 OPS ranked 28th in the majors -- only the Angels (.642) and Phillies (.614) were lower -- and Collins has to be losing faith in the lineups he's been scribbling together lately. As long as they don't include David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud, or even Juan Lagares -- who is sidelined indefinitely with a muscle strain -- there's not much reason to think this group suddenly will start lighting up the scoreboard.
That's the Catch-22 for the Mets. They realize how important it is to stockpile starters these days -- with pitchers dropping almost every week around the majors -- but are reluctant to trade from that attractive surplus to acquire offensive help. Before you mention Dillon Gee, he's not going to return an impact bat. Sandy Alderson is going to need to get creative, and simply waiting for Wright to heal up may not be a viable option.
For the meantime, the Mets' plan is to do it without Tulo. Alderson has spent his first four years collecting talented young players while letting the team's bad contracts expire. Blowing up that blueprint for one player, especially an expensive risk like Tulowitzki, is not something the Mets want to do just yet.
We'll see if that can be a winning strategy in the weeks and months ahead.