If there's one thing you can say about the New York Mets, it's that they're consistent.
Consistently bad that is.
After a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies last night at Citi Field, the Mets fell to 4-7 and have just one win in their last seven games. Their 3-1 start to the season seems like a distant memory right now.
And there's no shortage of problems.
Their starting rotation, without Johan Santana, has produced just four wins in 11 starts this season. R.A. Dickey and Chris Young are both tied for the team lead with one win apiece. Mike Pelfrey, the team's No. 1 starter by default, sports an ugly 10.80 ERA in three starts.
Jon Niese has pitched well at times, but is this year's version of Oliver Perez. He's been able to shut down opposing teams with an excellent curveball, but just cannot avoid the big inning. In last night's start, Niese served up a three-run homer to Troy Tulowitzki to put the Rockies ahead 4-3.
Throw in Chris Capuano and his 6.75 ERA and the Mets are 13th in the NL in starter's ERA (5.59).
A shaky bullpen doesn't help either. Despite averaging more than five runs per game, the Mets have been unable to get ahead and stay ahead in games. Their bullpen is 15th in the NL in ERA (4.83), 14th in BAA (.309), 15th in runs allowed (24) and leads the league with 21 walks. Closer Francisco Rodriguez already has three blown saves this season.
At this rate, the Mets won't have to worry about K-Rod's option vesting (he gets $17.5 million if he finishes 55 games this season) because he's not going to get any chances to pitch with a lead.
Things are getting out of hand, if they haven't already.
And as the team inches closer and closer to irrelevance, and the trade deadline, just how many players could become available?
It's no secret that the Mets have some serious financial problems. The lawsuit stemming from their involvement with convicted swindler Bernie Madoff isn't anywhere near finished and the Mets are on the hook for more than $1 billion.
Team owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, as well as team president Saul Katz, are trying to sell a minority stake in the team but many insiders believer they'll have to sell the whole team to get out of this mess.
General manager Sandy Alderson has come out and stated publicly that the team's payroll is "significantly" higher then he'd like. He claims it's because he wants "flexibility", but the issue of having to pay players is also a big reason. The Mets have already received a $25 million loan from MLB commissioner Bud Selig, and were denied a second (though Selig denies they asked a second time).
So if they're not winning on the field, and they can't take on big contracts, or write them, the Mets have some serious issues to face.
Two players, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, are both entering the final years of their contracts. Beltran has moved from centerfield to right field in order to spare his surgically repaired knee and manager Terry Collins has held him out of the lineup in day games after night games.
Reyes is trying to show that he's 100 percent healthy for the first time in two seasons. Watching him so far, Reyes definitely seems like he's ready to have a big season. The only question is how much of that season will be with the Mets.
Reyes is batting .327, with a team-high 17 hits. He's not getting on base enough though, with just one walk in 52 at-bats this season and a .340 OBP. But his legs are finally healthy and he's been able to leg out two triples this season.
But therein lies the problem for the Mets. The healthier Reyes is, the more he's going to cost. If Reyes has a big season, he's easily a $100 million player and teams will be lining up this offseason to sign him unless the Mets can get a deal done mid-season.
Reyes has said he's willing to negotiate, but wont do so until mid-season. Unfortunately, he might have to give the Mets a big discount to stay in New York.
Mid-season trades for Beltran and Reyes are not only possible, they're likely.
But who else could become available?
Pelfrey has had success with the Mets, but this season has been a disaster for him. Last season, Pelfrey set career highs in innings (204) and wins (15), as well as a carreer-best 3.66 ERA.
The Mets signed Pelfrey to a one-year, $4 million contract this offseason, avoiding arbitration. But Pelfrey is not a No.1 pitcher. Normally a contact pitcher, Pelfrey has been unable to keep the ball on the ground and doesn't have the stuff to get strikeouts.
Next year's free agent class is severely lacking in the starting pitching department. Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson are the best two pitchers available, but the White Sox are widely expected to re-sign Buehrle this season.
If the Mets were to make Pelfrey available, teams would be lining up around the block. It's difficult to trade young starting pitchers, but the Mets don't have much reason to hold onto him either. Not to mention his agent is Scott Boras, so who knows how much Pelfrey will cost to resign even if they want to.
Packaging Pelfrey with an aging Beltran wouldn't be a bad idea, considering Beltran alone might not fetch much from interested teams.
K-Rod is also a player to pay attention to at the trade deadline. If it doesn't seem K-Rod will reach the 55 games finished mark at mid-season, a team in need of a closer (like the White Sox) could decide to take on his contract, as long as there's no risk that his option will vest.
Despite his struggles with the Mets, K-Rod is still an effective closer, just maybe not with the Mets. Bobby Parnell would appear the heir-apparent, but he hasn't shown the ability to handle his eighth inning duties, never mind the ninth.
Alderson has said that the Mets don't have any untouchable players, though they most likely wouldn't be trading David Wright or Ike Davis.
But there's a few things to consider here. First of all, the Mets haven't won anything with Wright. Despite having a solid core of players on paper, the Mets have collected just one division title and fell just one win short of the World Series, in the time Wright has played the hot corner.
Is it possible that the Mets just can't win with him? It's unfair to single Wright out, since he's easily the Mets best offensive player almost every season, but he's struggled in clutch situations and his strikeout rates have been steadily increasing.
Over the last three seasons, Wright is batting just .269 with runners in scoring position and just .228 with runners in scoring position and two out. His strikeout rate increased from 18.8 percent in 2008 to 26.2 percent in 2009. Last season, that rate jumped up again to 27.4 percent.
Despite those struggles, Wright has driven in 100 runs or more in five of the last six seasons. He'll hit 25 home runs and he'll steal 20 bases, but how many more reasons can the Mets think of to hold onto him?
The players the Mets would most logically trade would bring in solid prospects, but no one would bring in more than Wright. He's under contract through the 2012 season and the Mets hold a $16 million option for 2013.
A five-time All-Star with power, speed and Gold Glove-caliber defense would have teams offering up their best prospects. Yes, it's hard to trade your best player which would send fans everywhere running for the hills.
But does it seem like the Mets will be able to surround Wright with enough support to win anything significant (a division title) within the next two years? None of their prospects have looked good in limited time in the majors, and unless the Mets reverse their policy of not spending over slot on draft picks, there isn't anything better coming down the pipe.
As Alderson said, it's unlikely the Mets would trade Wright. But should they listen to offers? Absolutely.
The Mets play a double-header today to finish their series with the Rockies before heading to Atlanta for three with the Braves. Who knows? By the end of the day the Mets could be 6-7 and things might not be so bad.
But if they continue to struggle and find themselves in the basement at the trade deadline, there shouldn't be any untouchable player or a name left off the "available" list. The Mets are a franchise in transition. An uncertain present and an even more uncertain future will make life tough.
And drastic times call for drastic measures.