New York Daily News

Wait till next year, but not too much longer


CHICAGO — Two major league evaluators were watching the Mets play a few days ago, and started a little game: They began counting the position players on the field who they considered major leaguers.

OK, David Wright, of course. That was one. Then you had Marlon Byrd, and Daniel Murphy, who the evaluators believed had shown they belong. Then . . . uh . . . well, John Buck was off that day, but you still had . . . um . . .

Huh, no, that was it, the two baseball men concluded. Three big leaguers. We raise this here not to launch an easy shot at a team in a down year, but as a check-in on the enormity — and urgency — of the task facing Sandy Alderson between now and April, the beginning of the The Met Season that Finally Matters.

This is the best of what they will have, barring injury or regression: Matt Harvey doing his modern Bob Gibson thing, which is so sublime that you can’t help but wonder if it is fleeting; a more polished Zack Wheeler; and a captain creeping deeper into his 30s — three essential players whose primes will not overlap for more than a few years.

Think about it: Eight-year contract or not, Wright will not be this good forever. While he has enjoyed a mid-career renaissanc­e since scouts saw evidence of an early and steep decline in 2009 and 2010, he has been producing for many seasons already. The captain will be 31 next Opening Day, far from old, but a member of the Napster generation, while Harvey and Wheeler came of age in a time of GIFS and Instagram. That is why it is important for Alderson to build a playoff-caliber team, starting immediatel­y.

Is it possible that a ballclub this lost can become a contender in less than a year? Well, maybe not, but given the widespread mediocrity in the NL East, it is not a ridiculous goal, either. The Mets should start by offering Terry Collins another contract, rewarding him for the leadership skills that were again on display this week, when he made a difficult decision on pinch-hitting for Buck, gave the veteran a night to stew and smoothed the situation the following day with a heart-to-heart during batting practice, while leaning on the dugout railing. Collins has handled the clubhouse with a deft touch since arriving in 2011, and is the right man to lead the team through better times. But we’ve been over that already. How about on the field? I asked the manager what needed to happen between now and next April in order to make the Mets a good team, and the first thing out of his mouth was a name.

“We’ve got to get Ruben Tejada back to where he was,” Collins said of the shortstop who batted .289 as a 22-year-old in 2012, and was down to .209 before he hit the disabled list last month. “That’s a very big key for us, because this kid was a good offensive player and as steady a shortstop as you would want.”

Collins’ larger point was that a stabilized infield would mean everything to the Mets. Everyone expects Alderson to acquire an outfielder or two, is excited about the top of the rotation and hopeful that Bobby Parnell will continue his transforma­tion into a top closer. If catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud does not prove to be too injurypron­e, as some Mets people fear he is, that position could be stable next year, too. So if the infield can just be what the Mets thought it was, Collins sees a solid team. “Now that Dan Murphy has establishe­d himself at second base, we’ve got to get Ike Davis — he cannot have an April and May like he has the last two years,” the manager said. “That is huge for us. If those two things (Tejada and Davis) are there, now all of a sudden lot of things are coming into place.”

This is a sunny view, and dependent on the restoratio­n of many curdled hopes. But whether it moves forward with Tejada and Davis or others, the current regime needs to ensure — indeed, is already working to ensure — that the waiting and hoping will finally turn to doing and winning next year.

If not now, when? Harvey, Wheeler and Wright will not be young together for long.

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