At the start of the season, the Mets appeared to be going down the drain - both on and off the field. At the All-Star break, things look better - both on and off the field. But is optimism justified, or merely a product of lowered expectations?
The dominant Met story last winter was Irving Picard's clawback lawsuit hanging over the franchise. As a result, Jose Reyes looked to be a goner.
As for the players, Johan Santana was out indefinitely, Carlos Beltran was a part-time player who could no longer play centerfield and Jose Reyes had to prove he could stay healthy.
Now Reyes has come back stronger than ever, and the trade of Francisco Rodriguez increases the odds of Reyes remaining a Met. The future remains uncertain, but at least the outlook is brighter than in the spring. And who would have predicted that Beltran would play in almost every game and make the All-Star team?
Along with the trade of K-Rod, another off-the-field bright spot was the announcement that David Einhorn will invest $200 million in the franchise and become a minority shareholder.
However, Fred Wilpon's ill-advised comments denigrating Reyes, Wright and Beltran and warning of huge losses and payroll cuts temper hope that the franchise is headed back in the right direction. The clawback lawsuit is still out there. And Einhorn's deal has not been finalized yet.
While it would be nice to eventually begin a Mets' half-season in review without mentioning finances, it would be even nicer to not have to mention misdiagnosed injuries to star players. Unfortunately, David Wright played for a few weeks with a back fracture and Ike Davis was told to wear a protective boot that ended up making his ankle worse.
But, as mentioned above, Beltran has been healthy and Reyes was healthy before getting hurt earlier this month. Reyes is due back soon and the injury is said to be minor, though with the Mets' history, we won't know for sure until he is back on the field.
While the Mets have had bad injury luck with Wright and Davis, the same can't be said for Chris Young, who was the Mets' best starter at the beginning of the season before he went down for the year. The only reason the Mets were able to sign Young in the first place was that he was such an injury risk. Nobody could reasonably expect both Young and Chris Capuano to make it through the season healthy and productive. And the severity of Santana's injury makes any expectations for him a longshot.
Capuano, though, has been a pleasant surprise, and Sandy Alderson also came through with Rule 5 pickup Pedro Beato. Scott Hairston has had some dramatic homers off the bench and as a backup.
Alderson did not do as well with the other Rule 5, Brad Emaus, who quickly showed he didn't deserve the second base job. Blaine Boyer also didn't make it out of April. D.J. Carrasco was sent down, but did return.
Justin Turner has been a good addition, but Alderson can't take credit for him - Omar Minaya acquired Turner last year.
While the Mets hitting has been better than expected, this remains a punchless team without Wright and Davis. And Jason Bay has cooled off again after his recent hot streak, renewing fears that he will never get his act together at the plate as a Met.
The pitching has also been better than expected, with the starters rebounding from a slow start with a strong last few weeks. The bullpen has also been solid.
Of course, the main component of the bullpen was just traded, and the number 3 hitter (Beltran) is likely to be next.
With ownership in turmoil and a dispirited fan base, it would be easy for the team to give up hope, as they appeared to do the last couple of years. But under new manager Terry Collins, the Mets display a spirit not seen in some time around here. The hitters have even started doing their version of the "claw" when they reach base. Collins' infusion of a more positive attitude has some talking about him as a candidate for Manager of the Year.
But Collins has also benefited from the greatly lowered expectations. Last year, Jerry Manuel's Mets were eight games over .500 at the break. They finished 79-83 and Manuel lost his job.
If, as seems likely, the Mets trade Beltran, 79 wins might be optimistic. Not to mention that the Mets currently have no proven closer, which would seem to be a necessity for a team that plays lots of close, low-scoring games.
Still, under Alderson and Collins, there is a lot more reason for hope than there was under the old regime, both for the rest of this year and for the future. It doesn't look like there will be meaningful games in September, but there will be meaningful developments. What will the Mets get for Beltran if he's traded? Will they make other trades for prospects? Will Einhorn finalize his deal? Can Johan make it back? (I have a bad feeling about Ike, so I'm not including him in this list.)
So here's to a second half with more talk of claw than clawback. Let's Go Mets!