The central question of the Mets' pursuit of Cliff Lee - did they have enough prospects to get him? - was ultimately answered when Seattle sent the 2008 AL Cy Young winner elsewhere. But the Mets still want to add pitching, and several palatable options remain, including Cubs lefthander Ted Lilly.
As Lee first appeared headed to the Yankees Friday for catching prospect Jesus Montero and others, then was traded to Texas for first baseman Justin Smoak and others, what had long been clear finally became official: The Mets - because Ike Davis and Jon Niese are no longer prospects but important contributors - could not match other clubs' minor leaguers.
Had the Mets decided to move one of those rookies, or perhaps even Angel Pagan, they might have been more serious contenders for Lee. But because they wisely decided not to subtract from the active roster, and because Carlos Beltran's slow healing process made it difficult to trade Pagan, the best the Mets could do was offer a group of solid but not overwhelming minor leaguers.
As talks progressed between Seattle and other teams about Lee over the past several weeks, the Mets expressed a willingness to deal any prospect. Jenrry Mejia, Wilmer Flores, Josh Thole, Fernando Martinez - Seattle could have had any of them in return for a Lee rental. But none of those players projects to be a star soon. Mejia and Flores have the highest ceilings, but neither can order a drink without a fake ID.
Thole is a talented hitter and improving defender, but lacks the buzz surrounding Montero and Smoak. And it did not help when Mejia suffered a rotator cuff injury late last month. Despite the Mets' desire to add Lee, talks with Seattle never increased beyond a simmer, because the two teams did not make for an ideal trading tandem. So where does a team still resolved to add pitching go from here?
Club officials believe that Astros ace Roy Oswalt is imminently available, but the Houston righty remains a longshot to join the Mets. Astros owner Drayton McLane still wants top prospects and significant salary relief, and the Mets will not consent to those terms. Unless the terms change, Oswalt will not pitch for the team in Queens.
The team is also unenthusiastic about the idea of adding mid-rotation help like Cleveland's Jake Westbrook, Houston's Brett Myers or other back-end starters. They might revise this outlook if the market demands they do, but the Mets would prefer right now to focus on the front of the rotation.
Chicago's Lilly and Arizona's Dan Haren could fit that description - loosely, in Lilly's case - but there are no indications that those teams are shopping their pitchers in earnest, yet.
The Mets, meanwhile were left to watch an ace that could have made them instant favorites in the National League East go elsewhere. Johan Santana, who commented several weeks ago that he would like to see the team add a top pitcher such as Lee, was asked Friday if he were disappointed.
"Not at all," Santana said. "This is baseball. We've just to continue playing. It would have been nice to improve our team with him, but at the same time, we've got what we've got, and that's what we go with. We trust each other."
Alex Cora agreed. "There are other guys out there, who the organization feels can help," Cora said. "The process is just starting. Obviously the big chip went down, so now everybody is focused on somebody else."
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