Jeff McNeil #1 of the Mets throws his bat after...

Jeff McNeil #1 of the Mets throws his bat after popping out to end the ninth inning with the bases loaded against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of a doubleheader at Citi Field on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

David Stearns, unlike the noise around the Mets, isn’t prone to hyperbole. The still-fairly-new president of baseball operations speaks in measured tones, without expressing much in the way of angst or alarm.

But Stearns is no eternal optimist, either. And the language he used during Tuesday’s state-of-the-Mets media session (typically held once a homestand) was a bit darker than previous chats.

A few hours later, the Mets performed yet another masterpiece of self-sabotage in Game 1 of their doubleheader, losing 5-2 to the Dodgers in 10 innings, a toxic brew of circus-quality defense, late bullpen ineptitude and doing just enough to fail. They looked numb in Game 2, sleep-walking through a 3-0 loss, the sixth time the Mets have been shut out this season.

“Definitely frustrating,” said Jeff McNeil, who delivered an early contender for bat-spike of the season after popping up to kill a bases-loaded rally in the ninth inning of Game 1. “We’re a much better ballclub than what we’re playing right now.”

Stearns must be growing more skeptical by the day after the Mets (22-32) suffered their 14th loss in the last 18 games and now are officially considered one of baseball’s bottom feeders: only the Marlins, Rockies, Angels and White Sox have worse records. On the scale of playoff team or fire sale, with one representing an October wild-card berth and 10 signifying an everything-must-go July sell-off, the Mets’ needle is tilting firmly toward eight after Tuesday’s brutal sweep.

The only smidge of fading hope? The 63 days remaining before the July 30 trade deadline, which still isn’t as much time as it sounds.. Stearns will have to render his verdict on the ’24 season weeks before the actual dismantling date. But after watching this face-palming combo of middling talent and underachieving money, it’s going to take a near-miraculous turnaround to prevent Stearns from blowing it all up.

Not impossible. But you probably won’t be hearing Steve Cohen label these Mets a playoff club anymore, as the owner told SNY two weeks ago. And Stearns is no longer expressing the same brand of confidence he did back on May 16 in Philly, where he called the Mets a “good team,” as well as a “talented group that has a run in it.”

 

After that endorsement, the Mets lost eight of their next 11 games, an especially ugly stretch that now includes a trio of gut-punch, late-inning losses to the Giants and Dodgers. Further complicating their issues is Edwin Diaz flunking out of the closer’s role and Kodai Senga, the expected ace, laboring in rehab limbo with no return date on the radar.

Aside from Sean Manaea (3.16 ERA) and Luis Severino (3.22) enhancing their trade value, the Mets have done very little right, with an offense that ranks in the bottom half of the majors in OPS (.674 - 22nd), batting average (.231 - 23rd) and runs per game (4.27 - 17th). On the pitching side, the Mets rank 16th in team ERA (4.03) and 22rd in WHIP (1.32) while their glovework has been dismal, sitting at 29th in defensive runs saved (minus-27). After Tuesday’s sweep, they had an 11.0% chance of making the postseason, according to FanGraphs. So does Stearns still view his Mets the same way as he did two weeks earlier?

“We haven’t played like a playoff team,” Stearns said Tuesday. “And I think that’s the reality of how we’ve played here through the first 50 games. That doesn’t mean we won’t — but we’ve got to show it. Until we show it, it’s a reasonable question.”

What can Stearns do about it? In the short-term, not a heck of a lot. This isn’t his mess, and the offseason moves he made in the margins were basically designed to give this transition roster a puncher’s chance at a third wild card (while saddled with the sport’s highest payroll at $324 million). Other than wait for Francisco Alvarez to get healthy — he begins a rehab assignment Thursday — the Mets only shot at a rebound is to have their struggling core players wake up.

Consider everyone in a Mets’ uniform on the clock, aside from the immovable Francisco Lindor, who is hitting .209 with a .663 OPS in Season Three of his 10-year, $341 million contract. To his credit, Stearns didn’t reject the fire sale premise when it repeatedly was brought up during Tuesday’s conversation, but is showing restraint.

“I think the baseball calendar provides the road map for that,” Stearns said.

The countdown is underway. As much as the Mets tried to avoid calling ’24 a rebuilding season, Stearns could be engineering a gut renovation in another month or so, with zero attachment to some of the original Mets fixtures. Stearns inherited a framework that has managed only one playoff appearance since the Lindor trade in 2021, so he wouldn’t be averse to a dramatic shake up, regardless of a player’s stature.

“It doesn’t matter to me at all,” Stearns said. “I’m not looking to put my imprint on anything. I’m looking to help create an organization that’s going to win a lot of games for a long time. . . . I think the guiding light on all of this is to put together the best team possible.”

If that’s the case, Stearns better get started. He’s got plenty of work to do.

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