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There's Still Time

After a dreadful four-game sweep at the hands of those murderous Friars, the Mets are looking at a 7.5 game deficit in the NL East. The Phillies have been winning almost every day, while the Mets are regularly starting replacement level bats at the three most crucial offensive positions. There's plenty of season left, but these sample sizes are only getting larger and the Mets' image in Philly's rearview is only getting smaller.

That Omar Minaya has spent almost $140 million on this team and yet failed to provide any reasonable contingencies for injuries to the corner outfielders and continued regression at first base is inexcusable. Starting pitching is not this team's problem. Despite Billy Wagner's hiccup on Sunday and Aaron Heilman's season-long nosedive, the bullpen hasn't really been a huge problem. Offense is the problem, and for once the prescription is *not* more cowbell; it's more offense, and I don't know where the Mets are going to find it.

Endy Chavez is a serviceable fifth outfielder. He can't hit and he doesn't steal bases. His glove is his only real asset, though it's a tremendous one. Fernando Tatis is not a major leaguer. He had a nice first week with the team, but regression to the mean is a cruel bitch and she flurked up Tatis something fierce. Carlos Delgado has hit well over the past week, but he has also generally hit poorly over the past 15 months. Which sample is more reliable at this point? The Mets' first-basemen are 14th in the National League in OPS; strangely, the five NL East teams are all in the bottom seven, and the Nationals are the highest-ranked at 10th overall.

Sifting through the ranks of the Mets' high minors doesn't turn up many promising solutions. Val Pascucci has interesting stats at New Orleans, and despite him having been labeled a quadruple-a player, giving him a shot can't possibly be worse than trotting Tatis out there every day. Fernando Martinez has been out of action for the past three weeks with a hamstring injury, and he wasn't hitting especially well when he went down.

Until Moises Alou and Ryan Church come back the Mets simply don't have any productive options at either outfield corner spot. Given Alou's fragility and the uncertainty about Church's post-concussion recovery, there's no telling when either might return, or for how long they'll be around once they've come back. There are always players on other teams that could help, but at what cost? What do you think an Xavier Nady or Jason Bay might require in terms of prospects, if the Mets could even afford the asking price?

I don't think the Mets are *that* far away from being a pretty good team, but at some point you actually have to go out there and start winning ballgames. As the season wears on, "this team is better than this" is eventually superseded by "this team is what it is", and with each successive week that the Mets grapple with mediocrity the playoff dream and that now-tired Shea platitude of "meaningful games" seem even farther out of reach.

The trade deadline is more than seven weeks away, but the longer the Mets continue to tread this fetid water the more likely they are to be characterized as sellers, even though the Wilpons would never admit as much. You don't invest $140 million in a team just to sell off parts to the highest bidder. Willie Randolph's job has been in jeopardy for weeks now, and Omar Minaya's grip on his post is tenuous at best. Their long-term future with this organization likely hangs in the balance of these next seven weeks. If the Mets don't turn things around soon, 2008 will be remembered as yet another lost season at Shea.