The Mets would be selling madly now, if they could find any buyers

Scott Hairston. (Mets.com)
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The argument as to whether the Mets should be "buyers" or "sellers" has largely been answered by the team's on-field play.

A 6-17 July has taken the Mets from 2.5 games back of the National League East lead, and in the lead for a wild card spot at the start of the month, to 12.5 games out of the division lead and 8.5 behind the final wild card spot. Adding a reliever now to exclusively help in 2012 wouldn't make much sense.

So the question general manager Sandy Alderson needs to answer between now and the 4 p.m. non-waiver trading deadline instead is: Exactly how and what do the Mets sell?

The players haven't done him any favors. Tim Byrdak, a lefty reliever who led the major leagues in appearances through Memorial Day, had a 2.57 E.R.A. to show for it; he's at 6.91 since, with as many walks as innings pitched. Scott Hairston, getting the chance to play regularly against right-handed pitchers out of necessity, has reminded everyone why he's been a part-time player throughout his career, posting a .630 O.P.S. against them. And Chris Young, who put up a 3.41 E.R.A. in his first six starts, has a 6.75 E.R.A. in his last four.

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If four starts seems like a small timeframe to evalute how a player can help, consider that for contenders, it doesn't much matter how a player will perform over the next 2-3 years, if he is being acquired to help for two months and then hitting free agency. Contending teams need to find players who are going to help, and help right now.

Still, there could be a market for Hairston, Young and others. The Mets won't get much, but for a team in need of added talent, wherever it can be found, taking a flyer on a high-upside, raw A-ball arm makes more sense than keeping players around who can only help in what is likely a lost 2012.

Basically, the Mets should be willing to trade almost everyone. The list of players they shouldn't be willing to trade at the deadline is a short one: 

-David Wright: not only the team's best player, but its only real gate attraction among everyday players, Wright will actually more valuable this winter. Consider: he's in the final guaranteed year of his contract, but the Mets hold a team option for 2013. If they trade him now, the option is voided. So the Mets would be dealing a team two months of Wright now, or a full year of Wright in November. Not that they should trade Wright then, either. But certainly not now.

Beyond that, Jonathon Niese, signed to a team-friendly long-term deal, should stay. Cost-controlled everyday players Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole and Daniel Murphy should stay, since Tejada is an asset at a talent-scarce position, and the Mets don't have any internal options close to the talent of Thole at catcher or Murphy at second base, which is a reflection on the Mets as much as it is on Thole and Murphy.

That's really the end of the list. R.A. Dickey is in position to help the Mets in 2013 on a very reasonable team option, part of an extension Sandy Alderson gave Dickey after 2010 that has worked out wondrously for the Mets. But this is a team unlikely to contend in 2013, either, and Dickey would become the best pitcher any contender could add ahead of the deadline. For the combination of effectiveness and cost control, the Mets would be able to add several useful prospects.

If a team were willing to take Johan Santana, owed the remainder of his $24 million this year, and $31 million next year, for nothing, the Mets would probably have to do it. The same is true for Jason Bay. But neither player has any shot of enticing other teams.

The reality is, the Mets will probably make a deal for Hairston, if they make any deal at all. The Mets have many needs to fill, but they don't have much to offer teams now to help fill them.