At 5:52 p.m. Wednesday evening, the Mets sent out an email that could very well serve as a microcosm of their season right now. Juan Lagares was scratched from their starting lineup with a left thumb injury. The day before he had a bad toothache. Kelly Johnson, the security blanket the Mets acquired the week before, would take his place. Michael Conforto, the usual starting left fielder, was stuck on the bench with a wrist injury/momentary lapse in hitting ability.
This is where the Mets are right now. Their backup plans have moved onto backup plans. They have been beat up by injuries. James Loney and Johnson are temporary life vests. And with it being the middle of June, there doesn’t seem like there’s a damn thing they can do right now to help themselves.
That’s the brutal helplessness that comes with being stuck neck-deep in problems at this point of the year. June can sometimes seem like a no man’s land for finding reinforcements. The Mets are nearly tapped out at the top of their minor league system and it’s too early to swing a trade. So what’s a team left to do but wait.
The Mets’ similarities to last season have been well-noted by now but this is a reminder that there isn’t much they can do now either.
“I think the deficiencies are similar,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “The question is if we’re better equipped to overcome them? I’d like to say yes in the sense that we have a little more major league caliber depth than we had but we’ve gone through it. … I think the other thing that may be different is I think we’re a little more cognizant of the need for that experience and therefore have been a little more proactive. I think we’ve demonstrated that over the last few weeks and we’ll try to be proactive as we go forward.”
But the time for building depth is pretty much gone. That could come in the last few days of spring training–a chance for adding marginal roster pieces as organizations shuffle their cards near cut-down day. To add one now, like the Mets did with Johnson, is trade from a position of scant leverage. That’s how Akeel Morris–no great prospect but not invaluable either–goes for someone like Johnson.
It’s also why there aren’t many deals of consequence in June. Teams that need help would be giving up prime talent and paying for an extra month-plus than if they waited until the trade deadline. And there are 22 teams that are currently on track for the postseason or within five games of a wildcard spot–as the Mets are. The rumors that have tied together the Brewers and Mets in the exchange for Jonathan Lucroy may just ignore the fact that even if Milwaukee doesn’t have much franchise-building intent to compete for a playoff spot this year, they’re still only 5.5 games out. Optics matter to owners and even first-year wunderkind GMs.
“Are we able to be as aggressive?” Alderson said. “I still think we have the prospects in our system to move.”
But trading right now could mean picking from the very top of the prospect list and Alderson has always kept long-term implications in mind even as he dealt away last summer.
If the Mets are hoping to find help internally, they don’t seem altogether sold on their options. Brandon Nimmo, their 2011 first-round pick, is raking in Triple-A, with a .411 on-base percentage and .940 OPS entering Wednesday. But he’s doing it in the hitting heaven of the Pacific Coast League. And though Alderson has praised Nimmo for his increased aggressiveness and complimented him for being “less passive,” he doesn’t seem ready to deem Nimmo ready just yet.
“He’s getting there,” Alderson said. “He’s been great the last two, three weeks and so I think he has put himself in a position to be considered. We’ll just have to see how he continues to perform as we monitor what’s going on at the major league level. He’s put himself in position for consideration.”
So what’s a team to do? Call up Dilson Herrera? Move Neil Walker to third in his free agent walk year right after he’s able to actually play again because of his balky back? Hope Conforto rediscovers his formerly superb batting eye and approach?
The options are scant and passive right now for the Mets. They’re stuck in the middle of June and there’s no worse place to be.
Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports