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When the trade deadline came, the Mets didn't have many assets that intrigued contending teams.
That's probably a pretty good assessment of where the organization is overall at the moment, although it wasn't like the cupboard was totally barren. Scott Hairston's ability to mash left-handed pitching is the kind of thing plenty of playoff teams would like to have on their bench, but Sandy Alderson chose to hang on to him in hopes of finishing at or above .500.
Hairston paid that faith back on Thursday with three runs in the Mets' 9-1 victory over the Giants, their third win in four games in San Francisco. That means the Mets are two games under .500 as they head to San Diego for the weekend.
It's hard to summon up great disappointment in Alderson's decision, because sports is about winning the games you're scheduled to play first and foremost. Hairston will help the Mets do that in 2012 and then he will probably move on to help someone else win games in 2013 while the Mets plug someone else into left field whose name had really better not be Jason Bay.
Holding onto Hairston would make less sense if the Mets actually got an inkling that Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis were more than players with more flaws than tools and a limited chance of developing into more than that. It's hard to kill a team for not wanting to waste more at bats on players like that.
Having said that, it's also hard getting a good read on what Alderson is doing to get this team to a place where they aren't simply fighting for a .500 record with a surplus of pluck standing in for the kind of talent featured on teams that are actually good. Trading Carlos Beltran last year said that the Mets were building around youth, but then they didn't trade Jose Reyes, signed a ton of retread bum relievers, keep playing Bay and hold onto Hairston.
Building around youth takes patience, something Mets fans don't have all that much of after years of having the team kick them in the groin over the course of an 162-game season. Honestly, though, years like this one that start off promising and wind up with the team trying to achieve mediocrity might even be worse than the ones where the team wins 70 games and turns out the lights before August.
If the Mets really are concerned about winning as many games as they can in a given season, as opposed to really being committed to building around prospects, then it is time for them to actually show it. The Madoff situation is no longer hanging like a cloud over the team's head, so there's no reason to turn into the Oakland A's of the East Coast by trying to win on a shoestring.
Go out this winter and make some moves that actually improve the team, even if it might cost you assets that you like. Doing that doesn't mean you give up on building around homegrown talents, just see the Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter trades that led to 1986, but it means that you actually commit to winning games instead of paying lip service to it.
It's fine to keep Hairston, in other words, but only if that's because there''s a larger push toward a team that is focused on winning in the here and now. The Mets don't have that team now, but building one is the only justification for Alderson's deadline decision.
Or go the other way and tear the entire house down because you don't think there's a usable foundation. That would mean saying goodbye to the few players anyone likes, but it would be a clean break that cement the team's movement in a particular direction.
Right now, the Mets are shooting for the middle and the only thing you can ever hope to achieve with that approach is the middle. That's not progress, that's treading water, and it is time for the Mets to decide that isn't enough for the franchise.
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