The Mets are in second place in the National League East, just two games out of first. They currently lead the NL Wild Card race, for whatever that's worth on the first of May, and have done so on the strength of their talented young rotation. It's almost impossible to emphasize how much of their current standing is owed to their pitchers, actually, as they've produced one of the worst offenses in the league opposite their above-average starters.
There is a way to fix this, or, at least, to help the offense along going forward. Shortstop Stephen Drew remains a free agent, and the Mets remain in need of him.
It's worth pointing out that this isn't the only avenue for improvement on the Mets. Bartolo Colon is a much better pitcher than his early-season struggles are letting on, and while Jon Niese maybe isn't this dominant, improvement from Colon and Zack Wheeler would more than even out in the Mets' favor. Were they to combine those with jumps in production from offseason pickup Curtis Granderson, 25-year-old catcher Travis d'Arnaud, and a return to form for superstar third baseman David Wright, the Mets would likely be in a good place.
The fact remains, however, that they would be in an even better position should Drew replace the continually disappointing Ruben Tejada at short, and any further plausible insurance should always be investigated.
A year ago, despite missing most of spring training with a concussion that resulted in a slow start to the year, Drew batted .253/.333/.443, giving him an OPS+ 27 percent better than your average shortstop. He also played some of the best defense of his career after more time off from his gruesome ankle fracture of 2011: though his arm still left a lot to be desired, his range and instincts were on point. Drew hit much better at home, but he still produced a 94 OPS+ on the road. It's not great, but compare that to Tejada, who has a combined OPS+ of 78 since 2012 and is at 73 to open this season. Suddenly, something approaching average at the plate looks lovely.
Tejada is a player the Mets have stuck with at short while publicly stating they feel he has room to grow. He's 24 now, in his fourth season with major-league playing time, and, if he keeps at it, two years removed from resembling useful. If the Mets stick with Tejada all year long, and he finishes his 2014 with it looking like his 2013, they should probably hope they're more than just a couple games from a playoff spot by year's end or else some easy finger pointing will be had.
Drew is no guarantee -- no one is -- but he likely offers them a much better chance at sticking in the postseason race than Tejada. He produced three wins last year, putting him five ahead of the sub-replacement-level Tejada, and averaged just under three wins per year in the four before his ankle snapped in half. He's already missed a month of 2014, but there are five months left to go, and the Mets might not be able to afford to wait until after the draft to try to lock him up once more. Ask the Pirates about that, as they flounder in the National League Central with Jordy Mercer and his (somehow) sub-Tejada line at short.
What if Donald Sterling owned a baseball team?
A thought exercise combined with a history lesson, designed for people who need to put everything into a baseball-related context.
The draft pick attached to Drew has been the problem all along. He received a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, and, given his strong campaign, believed he could turn it down without any repercussions. The Cardinals went out and signed Jhonny Peralta for far more money than anyone expected, though, and suddenly the shortstop market dried up when teams in need of help at the position refused to give up picks to get it. The Mets had a protected first-round selection due to last year's standings, sacrificed their second pick to sign Granderson, and still wouldn't part with their third-round pick and its attached budget to improve at short.
Now, the reasons why could vary. It's hard to believe Drew would outright refuse to play for the Mets given not just the persistent rumors of a possible deal but also because he's sitting at home working less than the people reading this right now. He could refuse to sign for what the Mets are willing to pay, though, just like the Mets might be refusing to bring Drew on for what he believes he's worth.
None of that hinders the idea that the Mets should sign Drew, though. A third-round pick could grow up to be something, but they've already given up the likely better bet in their second-round selection, won't lose their first no matter what, and find themselves still needing a shortstop as it was feared they might when they broke camp months ago. They saved $3 million by shipping Ike Davis to the Pirates, and that could turn out to be what they need to get something done with Drew. They should move fast, though, before more Drew-less games pass them by. They've got 15 wins in the bank already, but far more than that will be necessary for October baseball.