Coincidences can come in handy sometimes. This one should serve as a lesson to the Mets: They announced that Johan Santana is going on the disabled list, opening up various possibilities, just minutes before Tim McCarver spoke at a Hall of Fame function about how the straggling 1983 Mets took advantage of various possibilities.
The lesson is that sometimes you have to give the future a little nudge, just to move it along.
Santana is out with what is being called an ankle injury, with the coincidence being that he has not been good since he went all out to pitch that no-hitter June 1. They pretty much have no choice but to promote pitcher Matt Harvey from Buffalo, and they have to endure the ordeal of deciding whether to be a proverbial "buyer" or "seller" at the trading deadline (as if they had anything to sell).
What the Mets were up against in 1983 was worse. McCarver pointed out that the club was in awful shape early that year. What it did then was a hint at what it should do now: accelerate the plan a little.
The broadcaster, who was presented the Ford C. Frick Award Saturday afternoon, recalled that Darryl Strawberry was called up in May. What he left unsaid was that there was a lot of talk back then that Strawberry wasn't ready and that the Mets were just trying to get publicity. Turns out they got publicity, and he was ready. The next month, the Mets acquired Keith Hernandez, who took the news about the way any of us would if we were told that all weekends and holidays have been canceled. But it worked out. Hernandez is still here. And before you knew it, those Mets were worth watching.
Yes, yes, we know Matt Harvey is no Darryl Strawberry. We're not even sure he is a major-league pitcher. And we know there is no near-Hall of Famer apparently available in a trade. Nor is Zack Wheeler, the top pitching prospect, a new Dwight Gooden. The world is different now than it was in 1983.
One thing didn't change, though. There is no harm in thinking outside the proverbial box. Specifically, the Mets should not get boxed into thinking of themselves as a traditional buyer or seller.
A buyer says, "We're still in this, let's do what we can, short term, to make a run."
A seller says: "There is no use. Let's get rid of what we can, get some low-level prospect and wait for another day."
The Mets aren't good enough to be a typical buyer. But it does not make sense for them to be a typical seller. How often do those deals work? Give us one John Smoltz (a prospect acquired for Doyle Alexander) and we'll name you five Royce Rings (acquired for Roberto Alomar).
Santana's absence is a chance to shake things up and move them along, as the Mets did 29 years ago. If that means promoting a kid pitcher (which it does), then do that. If it means acquiring a high-priced veteran who someone is trying to unload, then do that. History says that such a guy can actually help young players improve.
Give Sandy Alderson credit for not committing to either the buying or selling. "This, in and of itself, doesn't change our approach," the general manager said. "I think the results on the field will dictate that."
He might be a little late on that. The results on the field already have spoken. The spectacle of R.A. Dickey pitching in relief said plenty, as have eight losses in nine games.
It's time to borrow a page from the past, and give the future a jump start.