Aside from the obvious choices who never would be available to the Mets -- players like Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, etc. -- what two players have you seen in the National League this season who would help the Mets make the turn-around they need to make? And why would you choose them?
-- Andy S., Newburgh, N.Y.
This is some undertaking. And after I answer, I'll provide the instructions for changing water into wine and leaves into dollars. I sense those procedures would be easier than creating a Mets fix at this point.
Assuming Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes return next season and perform at levels comparable to the levels they established from 2006-09, and assuming Carlos Delgado does not return, I would try to acquire:
A sure-handed first baseman with extra-base prowess -- Derrek Lee of the Cubs -- or
An energized, multitalented outfielder with extra-base power -- Jayson Werth of the Phillies.
I don't think the Mets have enough to acquire either and certainly not both. And I can't image the Phillies dealing Werth to any team, let alone one in their division. But a gifted first baseman would constitute an upgrade at three or four positions. That was the case when the Mets acquired Keith Hernandez in 1983 and John Olerud in '97. The other infielders instantly became more confident in their throws. And if the Mets pitchers are going to comprise something other than a strikeout staff, few upgrades will be as beneficial as a first baseman with soft hands and savvy.
Werth is a gem obscured by Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. To me, his contributions to the Phillies are comparable to those Kevin McHale made to the Celtics when Larry Bird was at his highest profile.
I wouldn't expect to see either player traded. But you asked.
We hear nothing about John Maine. When will he be back?
-- Jon S., East Center Moriches, N.Y.
Maine is as much an unknown at this point as Reyes. What I heard months ago -- that shoulder pain is likely to be a constant in his career -- hasn't been refuted by anything I've been told subsequently.
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The Mets radio announcers harp on how little Jeremy Reed plays. Why? He's just a fourth outfielder, right? How much do they want him to play? Angel Pagan is a much better player.
-- Sidney F., Fair Lawn, N.J.
I've been curious about Reed's playing time, too. And so are some of his teammates. He won the job as the No. 4 outfielder in Spring Training and appeared to be reliable and skilled on defense with some offensive skills. But manager Jerry Manuel seemingly didn't see the same things other people were seeing. He never has answered the question of why Reed has become relatively obsolete to him, why Cory Sullivan was given a far greater chance to play when he was summoned to the big leagues and why he seemed to make only a limited effort to keep Reed fresh.
Reed isn't as skilled as Pagan, but when he has played, he has been fundamentally sound and has played hard. Pagan has had some moments that he -- and Manuel -- would prefer to forget. I see each as a reserve outfielder on a good team, with Pagan more likely to play if a regular were lost for an extended period because of his superior skills. But the double-edge sword aspect of his performance will become more evident the more he plays. Most No. 4 outfielders are asked first to provide reliable defense. If that were the case, I suspect Reed would be the preference for most managers.
Do you think the Mets would have been competitive with the Phillies if they hadn't been cut down by all the injuries?
-- Gloria D., Brooklyn, N.Y.
No. I thought the Mets were lacking in April, well before they lost Delgado. And I saw more evidence of that as the weeks passed and before Reyes went down. My sense of the division race then was that the Phillies had several players -- Shane Victorino, Werth, Rollins and Raul Ibanez -- who enjoyed every moment on the field and didn't want to leave it until they had buried their opponent. And they had dominating talent in Howard and Utley.
I didn't see those characteristics in comparable quantities with the Mets. I thought too many Mets players were too easily satisfied and that not enough of the players with dominating talent delivered in critical situations. The 2009 Mets, more than Mets teams of the three previous seasons, were fundamentally flawed and tended to make grand mistakes.
The injuries merely widened the gap to ridiculous proportions. I thought the Mets were a second- or third-place team, one that would win 85-90 games, tops.
You spoke to my class at Rutgers some years ago, and you said you didn't root for the teams you were covering -- the Yankees and Mets. Do you still feel that way? And is it harder or easier to remain objective now that you're not working for a newspaper anymore?
-- Paul A., Wayne, N.J.
That must have been at least 20 years ago. But little has changed in the area you mentioned. I'm a fan of the game -- of good, precise and crisp baseball; strong, accurate throws from the outfield; first-to-third sprints and gappers. But I don't root for teams. When I was working for Newsday, I rooted for well-played short games that made deadlines easier to make. That hasn't changed either. Objectivity wasn't readily achieved in 1970, the first time I covered a game. It was nearly impossible when I met Mickey Mantle. It feels quite natural now.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.