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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Offensively-challenged Mets in same situation as last year at trade deadline

General Manager Sandy Alderson outfield the New York

General Manager Sandy Alderson outfield the New York Mets speaks to the media before a game against the Kansas City Royals at Citi Field on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Sandy Alderson was blunt earlier this week in predicting how the Mets might improve their roster before Monday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline. Bottom line, the GM figured the best he could do was acquire some relief help because that may cost the least in terms of exported talent.

Sure, another bullpen arm is always good, and Terry Collins has to be wary of burning out Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed or even Hansel Robles, for that matter, with two months (and possibly more?) still to go. But in assessing what the Mets could really use in chasing down the Nationals, or locking up a wild-card berth, fortifying the relief corps doesn’t seem like it should be the top priority, despite Familia’s streak of 52 straight saves blowing up in Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Cardinals.

A year after acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, the trade primarily responsible for transforming the Mets into the National League champs, they find themselves in a remarkably similar situation here in late July. Starving for offense, with apparently few options to obtain it.

Cespedes provided a brief reprieve Wednesday night. After falling into a 3-1 hole, the Mets got one run back on a wild pitch and Cespedes, with two outs, blasted a two-run homer off the second deck facade in left-centerfield.

Covered up by that vapor trail were the previous back-to-back strikeouts by Curtis Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera. Before Cespedes stepped to the plate, the Mets were batting .204 with runners in scoring position, by far the worst in baseball — with the Yankees next at .221. Maybe Cespedes is capable of being the savior all over again. But this time he’ll have to do it without Daniel Murphy, David Wright or Lucas Duda (for now) protecting him. We saw how that unfolded Wednesday night.

“It’s baseball,” Cespedes said. “You don’t how things are going to work out until the 27th out.”

The most obvious upgrade for the Mets would be the highly coveted Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and ESPN reported yesterday that talks with the handful of interested clubs have intensified, suggesting that he’ll eventually be traded. For the Mets, however, the price will likely be too steep. A source confirmed that Lucroy (.301 BA, 13 HRs, .849 OPS) would require significantly more than just shipping Travis d’Arnaud to Milwaukee, and the Mets, for now, seem reluctant to part with another top prospect, such as Double-A shortstop Amed Rosario.

Lucroy not only provides an offensive jolt, but he’s earning just $4 million this year and $5.25 million the next, upping his value considerably.

For all the posturing about relief help, the Mets’ bullpen had been relatively airtight before Famila’s streak ended (1.63 ERA since June 30 and 1.44 since the All-Star break). The Cubs sold the farm for Aroldis Chapman, and the Nats might do the same for either Wade Davis or Andrew Miller. The Mets are lucky to already have Familia, whose 36 saves lead the majors. Reed threw another scoreless eighth inning last night and now has a 1.26 ERA since May 1, and his overall 1.88 ERA is the fifth-best among NL relievers.

At this rate, however, Collins won’t have to worry about exhausting either Familia or Reed because they’ll mostly be trailing in the late innings. Depressing, we know. But the Mets have been in denial lately about their offensive shortcomings.

Overall, the Mets’ .237 batting average was dead-last in the majors, and their .717 OPS ranked 22nd. Gambling on Jose Reyes was supposed to supply the leadoff presence the Mets had lacked, but with a rib-cage strain knocking him out until this weekend, Wilmer Flores gets another shot to show he’s more than a part-time player. Trying to fend him off is Neil Walker, batting .177 since June 3, and he chipped in Wednesday with a pair of singles. Of course he was stranded at second both times.

“Do we think we can be better? Yes,” Collins said. “Do we need to get better? Yes. We’ve got to look at the bright side and say, hey look, we haven’t done it. But we’re capable of doing it.”

Can they do it enough, with the current roster, remains the question. So far, that answer is no.

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