David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
WASHINGTON - To those who still oppose a promotion for Michael Conforto, and that includes the dissenting voices within the Mets' organization, we only have this to say: Come up with a better alternative.
So far, that hasn't happened. And if the Mets are having as much difficulty pulling the trigger on a deal as they appear to be, then that explains why Conforto suddenly is becoming a more attractive option.
With Michael Cuddyer's aching left knee slow to heal, the Mets checked in again Tuesday with Double-A Binghamton manager Pedro Lopez for another update on Conforto and received the usual glowing review. Conforto also seems unfazed by the recent attention. Since he was besieged at the Futures Game with questions about a potential call-up, Conforto is hitting .348 (8-for-23) with two doubles, two homers and four RBIs in six games.
Apparently, the concern with Conforto is twofold. As one Mets official said Tuesday, they're worried about putting the weight of this team's playoff hopes on his shoulders at a time when he could be labeled as a savior. Also, the upcoming pitching matchups -- the Dodgers starting Thursday, followed by the Nationals again next week -- increase the level of difficulty for what already will be a significant leap from Double-A.
That's not ideal, obviously. And could make for a rude introduction to the majors. But the Mets, in the midst of this brutal stretch, shouldn't wait to go 3-11 or 4-10 before making a deadline swap on July 31. Be proactive. Cuddyer looked like he was jogging on glass after drawing a pinch-hit walk in the ninth inning of Tuesday's 7-2 win over the Nats and Collins did not sound confident about his near-term prognosis.
"We'll have to see how he feels tomorrow," Collins said.
More revealing is the fact that Collins used Eric Campbell, rather than Cuddyer, when Jacob deGrom was pulled for the game-turning, pinch-hit spot in the seventh. Great for Campbell, but an indictment of Cuddyer. So put him on the DL and bring up Conforto for what amounts to a two-week audition as the team further explores the trade market.
These are not mutually exclusive options. And if it turns out to be too soon for Conforto, then at least the Mets can be sure and can push harder for outside help. What's the harm in trying? Worst-case scenario, Conforto goes down to Triple-A Las Vegas and preps for a September promotion.
Sitting around, fingers crossed, hoping that Cuddyer wakes up able to walk without a limp is not a pennant-winning strategy. Rather than feel lucky to be three games behind the Nats -- despite all the injuries -- why not be the aggressor for once? Instead, Collins feels paralyzed by a short roster and too many hitters flirting with .200. Without much assurance from the front office that help is on the way.
"I get that all the time -- hang in there," Collins said Tuesday of those conversations. "And we do. That's why I don't ask about it. It's not my nature to.
For Collins, it's frustrating enough shuffling the same names around on a nightly basis and praying for a few runs. During the past month, the Mets are last in the NL in both batting average (.218) and OPS (.618) but have stayed close with the division-leading Nats regardless. That's a credit to their nearly airtight rotation. But if those numbers aren't a cry for help, we don't know what is.
And maybe Conforto can be a marginal upgrade, if not necessarily a game-changer. Based on what we've seen from the Mets' lineup lately, it's worth a gamble -- unless, of course, Sandy Alderson is willing to import a bat from somewhere else. The GM already has said he's prepared to "overpay" for the type of player who was later identified as Ben Zobrist.
But despite the A's identifying the Mets' prospects they preferred earlier this month, as a source confirmed Tuesday, there are no continuing discussions on that front.
The versatile Zobrist also is due $3.09 million for the remainder of this season, and a source insisted the money was not an obstacle for the deal. Either way, time is wasting. Rather than merely staying afloat, the Mets need to get serious. And stop acting like they're just happy to be hanging around.