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Fire Sales, White Flags, And A Plea Of Patience By Mets Fans Everywhere

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Despite the long-overdue offensive outburst during yesterday's 9-1 win over the Astros, media outlets continue to beat the drum in favor of the Mets commencing a very public and disgraceful self-immolation. Kevin Kernan of the New York Post joined the fray in today's paper by intimating an imminent fire sale for the Mets this season after Sandy Alderson conceded the lack of any meaningful organizational reinforcements.

Kernan's not the first to say it, nor will he be the last. That doesn't make his suggestions any wiser, though.


Here's the money quote by Kernan:

But this was a day general manager Sandy Alderson, who said he was not aware that some fans had been wearing paper bags on their heads at Citi Field this week, made it clear the minor league cupboard is bare at the highest levels.

That only can mean one thing: There will be a serious restocking of the shelves.

You can sense the day is coming when Alderson backs up the truck and trade whoever he can, starting with Jose Reyes and probably Wright, too. Davis might be young enough to keep around, but there really are no untouchables.

Without using the words themselves, Kernan clearly advocates for a fire sale in his article by making every Met a trade target. He describes this week's games against the Astros and Diamondbacks as "the Battle for the 2012 top draft pick" and allows Alderson's current inaction as a grace period before "it's time to get to work and restock the minor leagues and build for the future." Kernan is not questioning if the Mets are dead. He's saying the Mets are dead and seeks to scrap the roster for parts.

Kernan's message of "SELL! SELL! SELL!" isn't completely unwarranted given the Mets' long odds at playing meaningful baseball in September 2011 - but it is misguided. In baseball parlance, a "fire sale" involves selling off as much of your personnel as you can, usually due to financial reasons. That's essentially what the Marlins executed after winning the 1997 World Series. Their sustainability did not factor into the decision. They sold because they were cheap and because they planned on being cheap for a while.

While the Madoff trustees lawsuit will imply the former regarding the Wilpons' financial viability, it's still a stretch to imply the latter about the team's finances. I previously described this season as "The 2011 Hump," which I used to describe how enduring the team's burdensome payroll obligations in 2011 will free up considerable resources for the Mets front office in 2012 and beyond. If the Mets do nothing from a personnel standpoint this season, they could free up as much as $60 million or more to redirect toward future plans (pending whether Francisco Rodriguez's performance option vests and any collateral damage from the Madoff trustees lawsuit). They can trim down the Hump via trade, but the only way to erase it is to grit your teeth and bear it for one more season.

The fire sale differs from what is traditionally known as the "White Flag" trade. The White Flag trade isn't about recouping costs as much as it is about cutting your losses and attempting to extract as much value as you can from a trade partner for your suddenly extraneous talent. You conclude you can't compete, so you sell your non-essential premium players to the highest bidder. That's what the White Sox pulled off at the trade deadline in 1997 by trading off three prominent pitchers despite being only 3.5 games behind the Indians in the AL Central. It represents a conscious and strategic front office decision that says, "It's over. We have no shot. Let's start building for next year."

Advocating a fire sale now isn't just misguided - it's pointless. Selling off Beltran, Reyes, and Wright just to recoup costs via minor league talent will not lessen the 2011 Hump in any meaningful way. The Mets will either eat a good chunk of Beltran's contract to receive a worthwhile prospect, or clear the payroll for a lesser one. Reyes or Wright could incite a bidding war among potential trade partners, which would encourage waiting until the last minute to convert trade talks into a de-facto auction. None of those moves significantly lessen the 2011 Hump, alter what the Mets presently pay for marginal wins, nor change the amount of monies the Mets should free up at season's end.

Despite a 6-13 record and sole possession of the worst record in the National League, it's still too early for Alderson and the Mets to wave the White Flag or host a fire sale. The Mets might start playing meaningful baseball again, and even hovering around the Wild Card race at the All-Star Break could keep interest up and revenues growing for the franchise. Break up the Core before testing its resiliency one more time in earnest and you only expedite the sight of the White Flag. And there's no real reason at present to rush the surrender.

Fire sales are about the money, stupid. White Flags are about the talent. The former's unnecessary and it's too soon to seriously consider the latter.

So can Kernan and his ilk quit it with the doom-and-gloom trade chatter until at least Memorial Day?