For the past two weeks we have heard all the speculation: Should the Mets trade for Cliff Lee, even as a rental player? It’s hard to pass up, considering Lee’s recent body of work the last two-and-a-half years.

In 2008 he went 22-3 with the Cleveland Indians, and last season he helped spearhead the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series, including shutting out the Yankees in Game One of the Fall Classic.

This year, now with Seattle, Lee is 7-3 with a strikeout-to-walk statistic of 76-4; that stat is an 18-1 K-to-BB ratio, the best in the majors. Only Roy Halladay comes close with a 6-1 K-to-BB ratio.

Anyone who wouldn’t want Lee on their team down the stretch must be crazy, and adding him to a rotation consisting of Mike Pelfrey, Johan Santana, Jon Niese, and R.A. Dickey will almost certainly move the Mets to October.

However, there is one problem: At what cost would the Mets be willing to do it? Would they be willing to risk part of their future in prospects, i.e. Jenrry Mejia, Josh Thole, or Dillon Gee, in order to sign a guy who has stated that he wants to be a free agent after the season and wants to be paid at least $150 million at age 32?

Lee will not sign a contract in August or September. He won’t stay with the Mets or any team that acquires him. He wants to hear offers, and I’ll wager he wants to hear from the other New York team, the one with an interlocking N.Y. on their hats, before deciding.

Even if he arrived and fell in love with New York, that doesn’t mean he has to fall in love with the Mets; he could stay in the Big Apple as a Yankee. Is that worth trading away top prospects?

I have heard fans call WFAN to suggest that the Mets keep their prospects and trade Carlos Beltran, or trade Beltran and prospects to Seattle to get Lee. That would be stupid.

For one, Seattle doesn’t want a centerfielder past his prime; and two, the Mets would cripple themselves if they should ever lose a healthy Beltran, who is arguably the best centerfielder in the game for a guy who doesn’t want to call Queens home.

The Mets were down this road before, in 2000, when they acquired Mike Hampton in December 1999. He was coming off a 22-win season in Houston and wanted desperately to be a free agent. Even though the Mets went to the World Series with Hampton in 2000, it was not good enough for him, so he took the money and ran to Colorado, and then Atlanta.

Sure, another option like Roy Oswalt is out there as well, but Oswalt is 33, pushing 34 next season. His numbers have been on the decline the last two years. He was 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA last year and 5-10 with a 3.55 ERA this year. In addition, there have always been doubts about his desire to play anywhere but in the Midwest.

If the Mets are serious about letting go of Mejia, Thole, Gee, and/or Fernando Martinez, they are thinking right, but they need to go down the Pacific Coast to Arizona to find their “solid No. 2 starter” there instead … in Dan Haren.

Why Haren as a second option?

For starters, other second-tier options like Carlos Zambrano and Fausto Carmona would be basically “projects.” Zambrano, with his bizarre temper tantrums, would need to show the Mets that he can behave and pitch well in New York. He couldn’t do that in Chicago, and his contract is more expensive than Oliver Perez’s.

Carmona, who is having a good year, has yet to truly return to the guy he was who won 19 games in 2007. There have been problems with his mechanics over the last two years, and it would be more important for Dan Warthen and company to get his head straight if they should acquire him.

On the other hand, Haren is as solid they come. He is only 29 years old, in the prime of his career. Look beyond the win-loss record; Haren is 7-6 with a 4.56 ERA. He is on a last place team that plays in a building that is a bandbox in every sense of the word. Rumors are the Phillies and Cardinals want to get him — two teams that have haunted the Mets in recent years.

Haren has 115 strikeouts and 22 walks this year. That is as substantive as Lee’s K-BB numbers.

Just last season, Haren was 14-10 with a 3.14 ERA, a WHIP of 1.00, and a .224 opponents batting average.

To make this trade even better, Haren is signed with the D’Backs through 2012 with a club option for 2013. He will be 33 years old at the end of that contract. Last year he signed a four-year, $44.75 million deal with the Diamondbacks.

Haren’s deal is worth a guaranteed $41.25 million through 2012 and includes a $15.5 million club option for 2013, with a $3.5 million buyout. That’s a steep average of $11 million per year, but the Mets can afford it; they have said themselves that they are willing to add payroll. 

The Mets will have to send Mejia, Thole, and Martinez to get him. They should also throw in John Maine, who is a starting pitcher without a huge contract. If they have to get a third team involved or throw in another pitching prospect like Dillon Gee, they should do it.

Acquiring Haren will help the Mets win in 2010 and beyond. Sometimes long-term benefits are better than short-term Band-Aids.

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