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Mets are still very much alive, despite noise about supposedly inevitable trade deadline sell-off

The 2024 season has so far not gone like the Mets wanted it to. And despite a recent uptick in play, their record to this point is not good enough.

It's not good enough when measured against their internal (and most external) preseason expectations.

And it's not good enough when it comes to getting them into the playoffs.

But here's the thing...

As the Mets prepare to open a series at Citi Field against the Miami Marlins, they find themselves just 3.5 games back of the third Wild Card spot in the National League -- 2.0 games back in the loss column.

That has a lot more to do with the quality of the National League this season than it does with anything the Mets have done to stay in it, but it's an incontrovertible fact that New York is very much alive with about four months to go in the regular season and just under two months until the trade deadline.

The above is why the bellowing from all angles about a supposedly inevitable trade deadline sell-off by the Mets is ridiculous.

They may very well be out of it in a month, or playing at a level where not selling would be an error in judgment. But it's also quite possible they're right around .500 and in legitimate playoff contention.

Here's what president of baseball operations David Stearns said at the end of May at his regular once-per-homestand media availability:

"We haven't played like a playoff team. And I think that's just the reality of how we've played here through the first 50 games.

"That doesn't mean we won't, but we've got to show it. I think we have a group of players that is very committed to that goal that is determined to play better. But until we show it, it's a reasonable question."

About the trade deadline specifically, which could include a trade of Pete Alonso, Stearns was clear.

May 30, 2024; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets pinch hitter Pete Alonso (20) celebrates with teammates in the dugout after scoring the tying run in the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field.

"I think the baseball calendar provides the roadmap for that," he explained about deciding what course to take. "Generally the trade deadline becomes an inflection point in the season, and we've got plenty of time before that."

Stearns added: "Throughout the month of July, you are preparing for the deadline and having conversations. I think every single year takes on a little bit of a different pace. Every single year takes on a little bit of a different character for a deadline, but throughout the month of July you're preparing.

"You also don't need to make decisions until the end of the month, so we'll continue to evaluate where we are."

Since the day Stearns spoke, the Mets have been a .500 club -- literally.

But they're showing some signs of life, are about to get serious reinforcements, and have their easiest stretch of the season coming up in a few weeks.

The Mets are 6-4 over their last 10 games, and are getting a serious jolt on both sides of the ball (and in the clubhouse) with the return of Francisco Alvarez -- whose addition to the lineup will mark the first time all season the Mets' offense is whole.

Edwin Diaz's return is also imminent, and it's fair to believe it's much likelier he'll resemble the dominant pitcher he was in 2021 and 2022 (and earlier this season) than the one who struggled badly before landing on the IL with a shoulder impingement.

Then there's Christian Scott, whose stint in the minors (a strategic one by the Mets) will likely be over soon.

Somewhere down the road -- possibly around the All-Star break -- could come the season debut of Kodai Senga, whose recovery from a shoulder injury has been in fits and starts.

Between now and July 1, as the Mets likely get close to full strength, they need to show that they're worthy of being taken seriously as a team that can salvage its season.

And if they make it to July 1 in solid shape, that's when they could pounce.

Jun 3, 2024; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and Mets outfielder Starling Marte (6) celebrate after their game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

From July 1 to July 18, the Mets have the easiest 18-game stretch they'll have all season. It looks like this:

At the Nationals for four games
At the Pirates for four games
Home for the Nats for three games
Home for the Rockies for three games
At the Marlins for four games

The Marlins and Rockies are brutally bad baseball teams, while the Mets still need to prove they're better than the Nats -- a team they recently swept in a three-game series but remain behind in the NL East.

As far as the overall situation as the Mets try to make something of this season, it will logically come down to this...

If the Mets are around .500 and playing well in the middle of July, it will almost certainly mean they're in legitimate playoff contention.

If the Mets revert to how they were playing in May and don't make up enough ground record-wise by the middle of July, it will almost certainly mean they're out of it -- for all intents and purposes.

That means that how the Mets operate at the trade deadline will be dictated by how they play over the next month or so, not by how people outside of the organization think they should operate at the trade deadline.

To be clear, the Mets should not be deluded if selling proves to be the prudent course of action. And Stearns is too savvy, and too focused on the long-term success of the team to be deceived by fool's gold and let that dictate what he does if the Mets don't show enough.

At the same time, I think some people are missing the point when it comes to this season and what the Mets hope to accomplish.

The stated goal of the front office was to be a legitimate playoff contender. That means being a team that wins in the low-to-mid 80s and does enough to be in the hunt down the stretch. In other words, the goal was a modest one -- but important nonetheless.

If the Mets show over the next month that they have the ability to be that kind of team, they should be given the chance to see it through with the roster they have -- not watch it get torn apart.

And frankly speaking, Stearns and owner Steve Cohen are too smart to rip the big league roster to pieces in a few months if the players show this team should be taken seriously. The key part now is for those players to prove they deserve to be kept together.