Now that the Red Sox have signed Carl Crawford any chance of a deal with the Mets involving Carlos Beltran is dead. Beltran’s agent Scott Boras told reporters yesterday that his client expects to be with the Mets next year. New manager Terry Collins said it was his goal to get Beltran comfortable.
As a Mets fan, I believe all of the above to be wonderful news.
For whatever reason, Mets fans as a whole have never warmed up to Beltran. Yes, he got off to a lousy start with the club in 2005 and yes, he ended the 2006 season by looking at a called third strike. But can we agree that those two things are black marks in his career with the Mets and look at everything else he’s done while on the team?
Beltran drew MVP votes in 2006, 2007 and 2008 – finishing fourth in the balloting in 2006. He’s made the All-Star team four times, won three Gold Glove Awards and two Silver Slugger Awards. From ’06-’08 he drove in 340 runs and in 2009 he was on pace to have his highest AVG ever with a .325 mark before he lost nearly three months with the knee injury. After missing half of 2010 while recovering from surgery, Beltran took awhile to shake off the rust and in his final 40 games put up a .295/.369/.504 line in 160 PA.
Beltran draws walks, hits for power, is an excellent baserunner and before his knee injury was an outstanding defensive center fielder. Yes, he did not look comfortable out there in 2010. But Collins and Beltran are going to use Spring Training to determine if he should be in center or right this year. If he can no longer cover the ground in center, the Mets can slide Angel Pagan in there instead and have Beltran play right field.
So, Mets fans, do you want a guy who finished last year with an .873 OPS in your lineup? The past two seasons, when he has battled the knee injury, Beltran has put up a combined .295/.384/.470 line in 612 PA. Would that be acceptable production for you? Can I remind you that the guy who played RF the most for the Mets last year – Jeff Francoeur – had a .237/.293/.369 line in 447 PA.
Even if he can no longer play center field, the upgrade that Beltran will provide the 2011 Mets will be enormous. Instead of a cipher who made outs nearly 71 percent of the time, Beltran gives the Mets a player who will get on base around 38 percent of the time. And he will have an ISO at least 50 points higher than the team’s 2010 starter. And before you think of Francoeur as some kind of player whose overall stats were not great but one who came through in the clutch, remember that he had a .607 OPS with RISP last year, compared to Beltran’s .802 mark.
Some fans counter that Beltran is an injury risk and that his contract hamstrings the Mets efforts to improve the team elsewhere. There is some merit to those two points, but those factors also make trading him right now a bad idea. You never want to trade someone when their value is at its lowest point. Any potential trading partner is going to cite those same two things to justify not offering much in return for Beltran.
If the choice is trading him for pennies on the dollar (and getting minimal salary relief, too) or giving him the chance to come back and show he can play with his knee condition – sign me up for the latter. I have no problems with Sandy Alderson doing his job and finding out the trade value of all of his players. But now that he knows how little other teams are willing to offer for Beltran, let’s welcome him with open arms and look forward to his production in the middle of the team’s batting order.
And during the season, worry less about how many zeroes are in his contract and focus on what he does between the white lines. This may very well be the last year that Beltran plays for the Mets and you should enjoy his all around outstanding play while you can.
While Beltran did not come up through the Mets farm system like Jose Reyes and David Wright did, 2011 marks the seventh season he has played for the team. By comparison, Darryl Strawberry played eight years for the Mets. But because Strawberry came up through the system, he receives far more love from Mets fans, even though he left under bad terms and had a drug habit.
The purpose here is not to belittle Strawberry but to point out that Beltran deserves similar respect and/or adulation. You could put Beltran’s ’06-’08 seasons in Strawberry’s career and they would look right at home. And the 2005 season looks just as out of place in Beltran’s career as 1989 looks for Strawberry. Beltran’s injury-plagued 2009 is not too far off what Strawberry did in 1985. The outlier is last year, because it took Beltran so long to come back. But given what he did the final 40 games, there is a reason to be optimistic that he can add another productive year to his legacy in New York.
No one in Mets history can match the three best seasons that Strawberry put up. But when you mention the most productive players for the franchise, Beltran belongs in the discussion along with Mike Piazza and Howard Johnson. Neither Piazza nor Johnson began their careers with the Mets. And if those two can bring smiles to the faces of Mets fans (HoJo’s work as a batting coach notwithstanding) then why can’t Beltran?
So enjoy Beltran this year. One day your kid is going to ask you what it was like to watch him for so long and he won’t understand why you are so bitter about one at-bat over an outstanding career.