Mets fans everywhere are lowering their expectations, resigning themselves to a payroll that will no longer be in the top five in baseball, despite having a new stadium in the biggest market in the country. While we root for Irving Picard to come away with a settlement expensive enough to force the Wilpons to sell, we also are prepared for the Wilpons to retain control while having much tighter grips on their pocketbook when it comes to spending on the Mets.

While fans are coming to grips that the payroll will drop significantly, there has been no shortage of love for Jose Reyes. Everyone (myself included) has come out in support of re-signing the sparkplug shortstop who has played exclusively with the Mets and still is in the prime of his career. Of course Reyes has made it easier for the fans to give outpouring love, as he’s posted a .313/.363/.455 mark.

But another impending free agent has also been having a fabulous season so far. Carlos Beltran is leading the National League with 11 doubles and overall he has a .292/.375/.538 line. And while Reyes has achieved his great start thanks to a career-high .345 BABIP, Beltran’s .310 mark is right in line with his career average .301 BABIP.

So, where is the love for Beltran?

Beltran leads the Mets in OBP (.375), is second in both SLG (.538) and RBIs (17), is tied for second in HR (5) and is third in AVG (.292). And fans seem more interested in swinging a deal for him at the deadline then finding out what it would take to bring him back in 2012.

Knee injuries the past two seasons have many thinking that Beltran should be in the American League, where he can serve as a designated hitter. But Beltran has made 19 consecutive starts, has not complained of leg pain and looks comfortable in the field, although early fielding numbers are not thrilled with his defensive performance in right field.

Beltran has been unappreciated throughout his tenure with the Mets, so it figures that fans would not clamor for his return. And it is okay if you look at the likely Mets’ payroll next year, Beltran’s age and his injury history and think that it’s time the two parties go their separate ways.

But Beltran’s strong start this year needs to be acknowledged, along with the fact that he’s been a great player for the franchise. Many long-time Mets fans think Darryl Strawberry has been the best position player in franchise history. Only injury-plagued seasons in 2009-10 have kept Beltran from approaching more of Strawberry’s numbers. Currently, Beltran has 1,208 fewer PA than Strawberry as a Met.

Beltran has more doubles as a Met (189) than Strawberry (187). If you put them on a per plate appearance scale, Beltran bests him in runs and hits, too. Strawberry still has the overall edge though, even when you adjust for his extra year with the team. But it doesn’t make sense how Strawberry is revered while Beltran seems barely tolerated.

Some point to his contract as part of the reason why the fan base does not embrace Beltran more. Back in January of 2005, the Mets signed Beltran to a 7 year/$119 million deal. Now, Beltran got off to a poor start, missed basically a year between 2009-10 and has only played five weeks in 2011. But according to FanGraphs, Beltran has given the Mets $110.2 million of value while he’s been with the club. If he remains with the Mets for the rest of the season and stays healthy, Beltran will have out-earned his enormous contract.

How many $100 million players can say that? Johan Santana will not earn his $137.5 million. Vernon Wells won’t earn his $126 million. Nor will Carlos Lee ($100), Alfonso Soriano ($136), Barry Zito ($126), or Todd Helton ($141.5). Ten players are early in their $100 million+ contracts right now. How many of Teixeira (180), Sabathia (140), Rodriguez (275), Cabrera (152.3), Mauer (184), Holliday (120), Werth (126), Howard (125, upcoming), Crawford (142) and Gonzalez (154, upcoming) will you be willing to bet will earn their contract, like Beltran is on pace to do?

Bottom line is that Beltran has been great and is performing better than we could reasonably have hoped for coming into the season. Appreciate him now and keep an open spot in your hearts and mind for a return in 2012 if the details can be worked out for both sides.

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