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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

As trade deadline nears, anything's possible for Mets

Michael Conforto of the Mets reacts after striking

Michael Conforto of the Mets reacts after striking out to end the third inning against Atlanta during Game 1 of a doubleheader at Citi Field on Monday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The message couldn’t have been any clearer Tuesday night at Citi Field if the Delta Shuttle was towing a banner that spelled out, "TRADE FOR A STARTING PITCHER ASAP!"

Instead, the twice DFA’ed Jerad Eichoff had to be sacrificed to the Braves, who walloped him for three homers and 10 runs before he was mercifully pulled with one out in the fourth inning of the Mets’ eventual 12-5 loss.

"It’s embarrassing," said Eichoff, who was re-signed (again) late Monday night. "It’s frustrating."

Consider this rock bottom for the Mets, who were so desperate for pitching during this five-games series (in four days) they basically pulled the pin on Eichoff, lobbed him to the mound and ducked. Now the front office has work to do before Friday’s trade deadline, even with more healthy arms on the horizon.

Fortifying the rotation is a no-brainer. Same goes for the bullpen, where there’s always a seat for another shutdown reliever.

But among the ranks of the position players? That gets a little trickier when it comes to upgrades, especially for a first-place team that clearly has discovered a winning mojo through the first four months -- along with an offense maybe creeping closer toward its potential.

Now that Max Scherzer is a no-go for Flushing, with a source saying Tuesday he wasn’t interested in playing for the Mets -- Scherzer has the power to veto any potential deal -- that could make them pivot to other strategies, such as a lesser starting pitcher and another big bat.

One of the more obvious spots would seem to be shortstop, as Francisco Lindor (oblique strain) is likely out until mid-August and All-Stars like Trevor Story and Javy Baez potentially are on the block. Both are rentals, so it’s a convenient plug-in for a few weeks, with the option of sliding either one to second base upon Lindor’s return.

But are the Mets really that desperate for such a move? Since Lindor landed on the IL on July 17, they have led the majors in batting average (.291), OPS (.873) and homers (19) heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Braves. Despite scoring only one run to split Monday’s doubleheader, the Mets’ 51 runs over that same span was second only to the Tigers (59).

It’s a small sample size, but do those sparks qualify as the start of a budding trend for the next two months? The Mets have been getting by with the combo of Jonathan Villar/Luis Guillorme to fill Lindor’s vacancy, but both are supposed to be super-subs, not semi-regular shortstops.

When I asked Luis Rojas before Monday’s game if the Mets had been discussing outside help for the hole left by Lindor, the manager squirmed uncomfortably a bit on the Zoom call, sitting there with info he couldn’t share. But Rojas did admit that acting GM Zack Scott has been bouncing trade scenarios off him, and it’s reasonable to believe shortstop has come up in that conversation. Probably third base as well, with Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson out there.

"Our front office is diligent," Rojas said. "They think of what they want to do to improve this team even more, and I say go ahead and do it. We’ll play with those cards. But the cards we have, we like, and those guys playing short, they can help us win games."

Scott gave the impression Monday he’s not ruling out anything. The Mets have held onto first place this season longer than any team in the majors -- despite a dizzying number of injuries -- but they’re going to need some help to finish the job. Pitching is at the top of the list. It’s just a matter of how far Scott & Co. want to go from an offensive standpoint.

"I fully expect Francisco to come back and be our shortstop," Scott said. "In the meantime, I think we have some decent options to help us win in the short term, but [are] open-minded if there are other options that could also have the versatility to help us when Francisco does come back. Those are things we’d explore as well."

It just depends how talks progress, on any number of fronts, with the clock ticking toward Friday’s deadline. Truth be told, one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses has been in rightfield, where the slumping Michael Conforto inexplicably has been dragging the entire lineup down. Most players would be raking in the middle of their walk year, polishing their stats for free agency, but Conforto was hitting .203 with six homers and a .670 OPS heading into Tuesday night’s game.

The Mets have not given any indication they’re prepared to move on from Conforto at this stage, but he is a free agent, and his spot has turned into one of the most unproductive in the lineup. It’s just one example of why the front office has some difficult conversations this time of year, with loyalties being tested and relationships at risk. If the Mets do push the button on position-player help, some current ones are going to be out of a job -- or moved out of Flushing altogether.

"Zack’s been open with me about some potential stuff that might happen," Rojas said. "But nothing like too serious yet. Just had some names thrown out there."

Still, the Mets could have some of those names in their clubhouse very soon.

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