At the same time, Omar Minaya and the other folks in charge of making others forget the last two Septembers had drawn the first lines of the orange and blueprint for the Mets' first season playing in Son of Shea.
No matter how difficult the task of flattening the old place may be, fixing the Mets is bound to be more involved and challenging. Clearly, The MeiGray Group knows where to start, and that time is of the essence. Shea becomes off limits to the Group at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 13. If another copy of Bob Murphy's contract for 1974 and '75 is found -- one was found in a closet adjacent to the pressroom in the mid-1990s -- after the deadline, it will belong to the deconstruction guys who follow.
Minaya's deadline isn't so urgent; his mission is, though. And quite so. And where does he start? Left field, second base, the rotation, the bullpen or the backbone? The general manager considers David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran the core of the team, and Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey are core pitchers. Beltran, 31, is the oldest of the five, so several more years of optimum performance can be expected. But two seasons already have produced less reward than anticipated. And two September slides haven't prompted smiles from the fan base.
Greater success next season is Minaya's mandate. Part of the Mets' lament in 2007 was, "We needed to win one more game." And they did that in 2008, increasing their total to 89, and they still were a victory short. Marginal improvement probably won't suffice in 2009. It didn't in 2008, but it already has put Minaya and his manager, Jerry Manuel, in position for contract extensions and convinced the club to exercise its option on the contract of Carlos Delgado. The latter must be accomplished within five days of the end of the World Series the Mets wanted to host.
Minaya wasn't saying much at Shea on Monday.
"I promise to try to find a way," is what he said. But he said he knows what the job and the market demand. "It's not about [finishing in] second place," he said. He did note that the team had four players who had MVP-type seasons -- Delgado, Wright, Reyes, and Beltran, but he also said: "You have to ask yourself how do you score five runs in a weekend," a reference to the last three games -- two losses -- to the Marlins. And he noted how susceptible the Mets became to left-handed pitching once Fernando Tatis went down.
But he offered few specifics. Other people, though -- those equally familiar with the Mets' thinking -- indicated Monday that:
Pedro Martinez is unlikely to return
No steps will be taken toward finding a more suitable -- read productive and reliable -- second baseman until the club has a sense it can deal expensive quasi-incumbent Luis Castillo. Also, Damion Easley, despite the production he provided at second base, is not likely to return.
Despite his strong showing this season and the plan to have him play second base in the Arizona Fall League, Daniel Murphy is most likely to be a platoon left fielder.
The club is quite aware the contract demands of Scott Boras client Oliver Perez are likely to be exorbitant. The Mets are interested in re-signing the potential free agent, but they already are asking, "At what price?"
The Mets still need at least one more starting pitcher -- and two if Perez bolts. And one will have to be a 200-innings guy.
And none of that addresses the bullpen or the need for a closer. The Mets know Francisco Rodriguez is eligible for free agency. But, given all the other areas that need to be addressed, Brian Fuentes is a more likely target for them.
Minaya said: "We'll be open to everything. You don't lock yourself in. We're open to consider everything, [because] we're not playing this week. We have the talent to be playing."
Minaya added: "We have a tough challenge ahead of us."
No one argued that point.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less