The Mets didn't have a game on Monday night so they went bowling instead. Rather than discussing the tenets of national socialism or the intrinsic value of a rug, they found themselves talking to reporters about the chance of seeing the front office swing a deal for a front-line starting pitcher like Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt.
"We have enough as it is right now," Johan Santana said. "But there's nothing wrong with improving what we have, if that's the case. I don't know what the front office is gonna do as the season progresses, but you want to gain ground and win as many games as possible."
"We've been playing great, but to go out and add a guy like that, it might put us over the top," Mike Pelfrey said. "You would definitely love to have those guys on your team. I think those are some of the elite pitchers in the game. It definitely can help if you go out and get them."
These comments and others appear in both the Post and Daily News on Tuesday with both papers naturally placing greater emphasis on potential trade acquisitions than the fact that the team has been playing top-notch baseball of late. Because you can't have a conversation about the former without acknowledging the latter, however, it's worth looking at the Mets as they are right now when discussing a potential trade.
There have been several reasons for the Mets' improved play but among the biggest have been the introduction of Ike Davis to the lineup and the ascension of Pelfrey from future star to actual star. Both of these players figure to be around for quite a few more years and with a clutch of other youngish veterans -- Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, David Wright, Reyes -- they figure to make up the foundation of the Mets for years to come. Is it worth trading away players who will augment that core for the chance at a reward right now?
It's intriguing to say that it is. The Mets have a decent lineup that figures to get better as Jason Bay and Jose Reyes get into grooves at the plate and might get a whole lot better if Carlos Beltran plays anything like himself when he returns. Adding a piece to the rotation would strengthen the bullpen because Hisanori Takahashi would likely go back to a relief role behind a rotation that would become as good as any in the league.
Prospects, however good they might be, aren't sure things and just because you are contending one year doesn't guarantee you'll be in the same spot down the road. Spending them on Lee or Oswalt would make the Mets more likely to go to the playoffs right now and that itself is reason enough to seriously consider a deal.
It's not a zero sum game, though. As mentioned above, the Mets would have to give up chunks of their future for a guy who will be a free agent in Lee or a soon-to-be 33-year-old with a history of back problems in Oswalt. That's a major risk, especially when your team, for all the positives cited above, might not as strong as Santana and Pelfrey think.
Right now the Mets are hanging out in the upper tier of the National League because R.A. Dickey and Takahashi are outperforming whatever low expectations people had for them. Chances are that levels out a little bit and there's also a good chance that the shaky peripheral stats put up by Pelfrey and Santana start to affect their results on the field. If those things happen, Lee or Oswalt won't be enough to get the Mets over the hump. For the first time in the last few years, the Mets don't have a roster that feels like it is win or bust and a trade of this magnitude would make that the situation.
It's not an easy call, because we can never know which side -- building for the future or going all out to win now -- holds greater risk for the franchise. In the end, it probably comes down to this: If Pelfrey, Santana and the rest of their chums really want an elite starter added to the crew it would behoove them to keep up the winning ways long enough to eliminate the downside of dealing for one.