If you've never seen a club with an 11½-game lead panic, watch the Mets closely if they lose at Atlanta this weekend, coincidentally the three days that precede trade-deadline day.
The Mets still may be the best the National League has to offer, but as one NL executive scout said Tuesday after yet another off night by a Mets starter (this time it was Tom Glavine getting shelled), "There's no way they're going to win the World Series with what they have. Unless Pedro [Martinez] comes back smokin', they're in trouble.''
The Mets are in such dire need of a starting pitcher that GM Omar Minaya hasn't been seen in days. But if I could find Minaya (who's presumably holed up in a room with a phone), I'd make this suggestion: offer Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heilman and Phil Humber to the Marlins for Dontrelle Willis.
Admittedly, I borrowed two thirds of my idea from A's GM Billy Beane, who months ago requested the multitalented Milledge and Heilman for Barry Zito and still would do that deal. But while that's too much for Zito, who's only a nine-week rental pitcher, it's not quite enough for Willis, who isn't eligible for free agency for three more years. That's where Humber, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2004 draft, comes in.
Maybe there's room to work. Mets people have signaled that they'd surrender Milledge for Willis, and they're under the impression the Marlins would trade Willis for both the multitalented Milledge and hot-shot pitching prospect Mike Pelfrey, who'd have to be designated a "player to be named,'' since he isn't technically eligible to be traded until January. In any case, as one Mets official said to explain why they can't surrender Pelfrey a year and a half after trading Scott Kazmir, "We'd all be fired.''
When I ran my alternate plan by a Mets official who could be found Tuesday, he reacted with two words: "Too much.'' Another official was even more succinct: "No.''
Yet, it's a clear sellers' market. The Mets can't be all that excited about what's out there: Livan Hernandez, Kip Wells, Tony Armas Jr. and Cory Lidle. Willis is 24 and a star, and if the Mets did this deal, they'd be seen as World Series shoo-ins. "He's proven, he's young and you'd have control over him,'' Glavine said. "For our team and our makeup, that's the kind of guy you'd look for. Everything else, we already have.... I don't think I'd trade Milledge, unless it was for Dontrelle.''
And, oh yes, the Mets are now officially desperate, as desperate as any team with a double-digit lead can be. After their Cooperstown-bound tandem of Martinez (who returns Friday after missing exactly a month with a hip injury) and Glavine, the Mets are understandably unconvinced that they can identify a playoff starter from the rest of the now-six-man rotation. (The final four are in tryout mode.)
While Willis (6-7 with a 3.97 ERA) isn't exactly on the trading block and the Marlins' four-game winning streak won't help get him there -- his agent Matt Sosnick said Tuesday he hasn't even heard a rumor for three weeks -- I still think the Marlins could be persuaded. Marlins people recently told competing executives that for them to trade Willis they'd have to get back someone "younger, cheaper and just as good.''
Perhaps they were merely being flip, but with my proposal I try to answer those requirements: They'd get two guys who are younger, three guys who are cheaper and three who may turn out to be darned good (though it's questionable whether they'll be as good as Willis).
The Mets have no choice but to risk part of their future now. And I still think it's Minaya's way to gamble (if I could only find him).
"We've got to win this year,'' one Mets official said. "We can't waste the kind of talent we have.''