Cranes are spectacular. The perfect union of form and function, they stand majestically over their construction site, grouped together to create an awesome skyline at dusk on a clear evening in Queens. And though they may be aesthetically appealing, they're never merely ornamental; cranes are always building something, and so their presence is always a harbinger of something potentially grander to follow. The cranes that inspired this paragraph are building a stadium: CitiField.
But watching Jose Reyes, David Wright, Lastings Milledge, Ruben Gotay and John Maine collect hits, drive in runs and mow down Pirates on Tuesday night at Shea Stadium, I realized that the construction in Flushing is not limited to the area beyond the center-field wall. And while the Mets, like those cranes, are plenty of fun to watch right now, they're also in the process of building something bigger: a dynasty.
Now don't get me wrong; I'm not necessarily suggesting that thus-far unproven young players like Milledge and Gotay are the symbolic cornerstones upon which CitiField will be built, I'm only saying that the youthful Mets have the capacity to win much more than the 2007 N.L. East division title and should be operated accordingly.
With the non-waiver trade deadline less than a week away, many Mets fans will inevitably call for short-term bullpen help or a rental starter to help the team on the stretch run and in the playoffs. "Win now," they'll say, and they'll pour forth all the traditional arguments supporting trading away young players for temporary aid, the reasons all teams should worry about the present first and the future second: anything can happen, everybody could get hurt, a fireball could destroy Queens next April.
Distinct though those possibilities may be, selling off long-term assets for fleeting interests is neither a good way to do business nor a good way to build a successful baseball team. The Mets are in position to create a winner not only for this season, but for next year and many years in the future. Reyes and Wright, two of the best infielders in baseball, are both only 24 years old and signed to long-term contracts. Maine and Oliver Perez, two of the most successful pitchers in the National League this season, are 26 and 25, respectively. And though its hard to project the success that the current Mets have enjoyed on any prospect, the team has a wealth of young talent in its system, most notably outfielders Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez and pitchers Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber and Deolis Guerra.
Any of those players could entice another team to send a Jermaine Dye or a Chad Cordero toward Flushing, but Minaya should -- nay, must -- hold firm. As tempting as those former All-Stars might be to a team focused on winning its first World Series in over 20 years, the possibility of a solid core of great young players is far more appetizing. Granted, very few of those prospects will stick, and the jury is certainly still out on Milledge and Gotay. The problem is it's impossible to know which highly touted young player will turn into Darryl Strawberry and which will turn into Alex Ochoa. There's only one way to ensure that your team keeps the prospects that will end up the best: keep all your prospects.
And though Minaya has said publicly that he thinks the trading deadline will pass quietly, opposing GMs will undoubtedly dangle veteran help in front of Minaya's eyes and come calling for the Milledges and Humbers.
Let this be my plea: Don't do it, Omar.
Because just as CitiField is starting to take shape, so are the players that should prowl its turf on Opening Day 2009. And though the building unfolding just beyond the Shea Stadium confines is a pleasure to look at now -- just like it's pleasing to see the Mets atop the standings -- we must keep in mind that the product of the construction is going to be something more outstanding than the process itself. If the Mets hang onto their young players and let the talent develop as it should, there will be something spectacular to see in Flushing long after the cranes are gone.