The Mets aren't likely to fire Jerry Manuel any time...

The Mets aren't likely to fire Jerry Manuel any time soon, but there are other things they can do to improve immediately. (May 10, 2010) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

After an ugly 3-2 loss to the Nationals Monday night at Citi Field, a rare instance this season in which the Mets beat themselves, Jerry Manuel announced a necessary personnel change to his club.

Smithtown's Frank Catalanotto, a great guy who just didn't show much as a Mets bench player, is out, designated for assignment. Chris Carter, who had been tearing up the International League at Triple-A Buffalo, will join the team tonight in an effort to improve the bench.

It's a good first step, but there are two other moves the Mets (17-15) - who fell a game behind second-place Washington (18-14) in the National League East with the loss - should make right now. And if they really want to contend for a postseason spot, rather than just lurk in the periphery of postseason conversation, they should make larger moves once other teams have real interest in trades.

The Mets were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position Monday night, and afterward, we heard much about how they are pressing. Manuel said his players will "continue to work, continue to talk about it, continue to get after it."

The truth, though, is that the Mets need help. Sure, they should have something coming from Jose Reyes and Jason Bay. Yet Rod Barajas will slow down on the power front, and Jeff Francoeur already is regressing toward the sort of numbers that prompted the Braves to give up on him.

The Mets lowered their payroll during the offseason, acquiring Bay and doing little else, because they professed they saw no other clear upgrades. And they promised they'd have more in-season flexibility to make moves - the sort of moves they largely did not make during the lost seasons of 2007 and 2008.

Replacing Willie Randolph with Manuel in '08 felt like a huge maneuver, yet the biggest trade came when Luis Castillo came over from the Twins in '07.

So if Seattle makes Cliff Lee available, the Mets should be all over that. They have a deeper farm system now, giving them more trade chips, and they can replenish it (if they trade someone) with the seventh overall pick in this upcoming draft, as long as they're willing to pay more than Major League Baseball's slotted figure.

And if an outfield bat becomes available - shoot, even Kansas City's Jose Guillen, if the Royals express a willingness to pay enough of the freight - the Mets should consider that, too.

Right now, though, with the Carter-for-Catalanotto swap executed, the Mets should . . .

1. Release Gary Matthews Jr. As expected, he hasn't been the best addition for the Mets. Manuel called upon Matthews as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning with Mets on first and third and none out. Matthews struck out against Doug Slaten.

The Mets should let him go and bring up another pitcher or Buffalo slugger Mike Hessman. It's time to admit that getting Matthews was a mistake.

2. Prepare Jenrry Mejia to be a starter. Yup, again. Ollie Perez is too inconsistent and John Maine, though better lately, lives on the edge. The Mets could wind up needing to replace both. If it's Mejia and an outsider - Lee, Baltimore's Kevin Millwood, Houston's Roy Oswalt or someone else - then that's pretty good.

These Mets fight. They can hang around. To do more than that, though, they need help.