Tag Archives: 2011 MLB season

Carlos Beltran: Greatest Met of All Time?

Let’s play a game of word association. Ready? Carlos Beltran.

If you’re like many Mets fans I know, the word that came to mind was “choke” or “underachiever” or “injured,” or maybe you conjured up the image of Beltran standing in the batters box watching strike three sail past to end the 2006 season.

Well, that’s a shame. Say what you want about the Mets’ offensive history, Carlos Beltran is one of the greatest position players the franchise has ever had.*

Beltran was never well received in New York, partly because the expectations were too high, which can happen when a $119 million contract is involved.** In his six seasons in Kansas City and Houston, Beltran proved to be a .280 hitter with power, speed, a gold glove, and a strong, accurate arm—a five-tool player, but not a .300 hitter.

Of course, Beltran’s underachieving debut season in New York didn’t help. Many fans turned on him in 2005, when he hit just .266 with 16 home runs and 17 stolen bases, about half of what fans expected. They booed him during the second half of that season and Beltran never won them over.

A smooth swing from the left and right side. (Credit: Keith Allison)

Beltran does most everything on a baseball field effortlessly.*** He doesn’t run after fly balls so much as he glides across the outfield. I wrote about watching Jose Reyes run the bases, but Beltran is one of the best baserunners in the game. His long strides can make it seem like he’s not hustling, but he takes the extra base whenever he can and steals bases at a major league-record 88 percent success rate.

And that ties in to my only criticism of Beltran, who will be a free agent after this season. Could he have sacrificed a few of those percentage points in order to be a 40-steal a year player? Could he have played through some of his nicks and bruises that cost him a total of 179 games the previous two seasons?

I’m sure he played through discomfort we were never aware of, but he was certainly cautious about his body. He didn’t seem to realize—at least not as much as some other stars—that the team was better off with Beltran at 80 percent than a replacement at 100 percent. If he wasn’t feeling really good he wouldn’t play. If he wasn’t feeling perfect he wouldn’t push it on the basepaths.

Even so, Mets fans will soon learn it is not easy to find a five-tool center fielder, so when Beltran is playing for another team next season (or later this summer) I have a feeling it will be a classic case of not knowing what you had until it’s gone.

*Even if he gets traded before the deadline, Beltran will likely finish in the Mets all-time ranks as follows: sixth in RBI, fifth in home runs, fifth in slugging percentage, and third in wins above replacement. I mentioned Beltran as a potential Hall of Famer to a friend the other day and he laughed. If he stopped playing tomorrow, he wouldn’t be considered, but if he were to sustain his current level of play—he’s leading the league in extra-base hits—for the next few years he would be a strong candidate. Granted, that’s unlikely, but Baseball Reference claims that two of the hitters most similar to Beltran through age 33 are Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield, both in the Hall.

**I’m still not willing to say it was a bad contract. It took Beltran a year to get adjusted to playing in a big city and a different league. But from 2006-2008, when he made $13.5, $13.5, and $18.6 million a season, he was definitely worth the money. Injuries made the back-end of the deal (where he made about $19 million per season) ugly, but that’s how it always seems to go with these lucrative long-term contracts (at least with the Mets). You think Albert Pujols is going to be worth $25-30 million at the tail end of his next contract, when he’s nearly 40 years old?

***This can’t be quantified, but Beltran is the most natural ballplayer the Mets have had in a long time. No matter what he is doing, he just looks the part. If you’re thinking David Wright, you need to watch him throw from third to first. Style points don’t count for anything, but Beltran does look like the perfect ballplayer.

****This doesn’t correspond with any point I made previously, but I think Beltran should be commended for the way he handled his move to right field. Look at Jorge Posada. His skills—both offensively and defensively—are diminishing, but he preferred to take himself out of the lineup (or, according to recent reports, quit the team) before accepting a demotion to the ninth spot in the lineup. As far as we know, Derek Jeter hasn’t been asked to switch positions or move down in the lineup, but it will be interesting to see his reaction when it does come to that. Beltran, meanwhile, recognized his skills were fading and shifted to right to make room for a younger, more athletic protégé. Anyone who felt Beltran was selfish had to rethink that stance after Spring Training this year.

Mets Should Re-sign Jose Reyes

It’s one of the best things you’ll find at Citi Field. No, I’m not talking about Shake Shack. I’m referring to the moment Jose Reyes rounds first base as an outfielder chases the baseball rolling to the wall. The crowd, just like Reyes, gains momentum as he turns second, where it seems the base propels him forward like a spaceship orbiting the moon. A second later he is diving head first into third, the throw way too late. He gets up on one knee and claps his hands hard and points to the dugout. The crowd sings: Jo-se, Jo-se Jo-se Jo-se, Jooo-seee, Jooo-seee! Long home runs and smooth double plays are fun but this is undoubtedly the most exciting thing that can happen during a Mets game.

The question on a lot of Mets fans’ minds these days is: Will they be able to witness it next season?

It’s a strange thought, and one that would have been laughable just a few years ago. Reyes made his debut in 2003 and showed why he was a highly-regarded prospect, though he was injury prone. In 2005, his first full season in the big leagues, he hit .273, stole 60 bases, and scored 99 runs. The next year he and the Mets blew up. Reyes improved across the board (he hit .300 with 19 homers) and was the catalyst for the best offense in the league. He started the All Star Game and was a legitimate MVP candidate. He signed a contract that kept him in Queens through 2011, and Mets fans figured he and third baseman David Wright would wear blue and orange forever.

The injury concerns that surrounded Reyes at the very start of his career returned the last two years, and the Mets plummeted in the standings. Through 31 games this season (including today’s win over the Giants), Reyes looks like his old self. He is hitting .313 with 11 steals and 19 runs scored. He has thrilled fans with three triples, the most in the league.

But the man who signed Reyes no longer works for the team. Moneyballer Sandy Alderson is the new general manager, a man against the type of long-term contract Reyes will demand. With a history of injuries and a less-than-ideal on-base percentage, will Alderson give the 27-year-old shortstop the $100-million salary he’d likely garner on the free agent market?

I hope so.

For starters, Reyes would be difficult to replace. You could get an average shortstop and a big bat somewhere else to make up the difference in the lineup, but that’s easier said than done. There’s more to it than that, though.

Reyes is a homegrown talent, which means something to fans. They watched him come up, witnessed the highs and lows of his career, and want to see him finish his prime in a Mets uniform. He’s also the most exciting player on the roster and it’s not even close. Wright is a stud, but there’s nothing flashy about his game. Carlos Beltran, who is a near certainty to be with a new team next year (if not this summer), was once a five-tool player, but his bad knee has robbed him of everything but his bat. With Johan Santana on the disabled list indefinitely, no Mets starter is worth the price of admission.

The dirty jersey, perhaps from a dive into third. (Credit: alpineinc)

If the Mets (13-18), currently in last in the National League East, continue to falter and deal Reyes this summer, what reason will fans have to show up at Citi Field?

I was at the ballpark on Tuesday, in the same section as Alderson’s luxury box. I saw Reyes go 3-3 with three walks and a stolen base. I saw him drill one to right field and make the turn at first. This time, he had simply hit the ball too hard, and the outfielder, who was playing deep to begin with, got a great jump and played it off the wall. Reyes eased up and coasted into second with a stand-up double, but just the thought of the triple got the crowd excited.

I turned back, as I did after every Reyes at bat that night, to look at Alderson. I hoped he saw what I see.

Update, 5/27/11: Since Mets owner Fred Wilpon has apparently lost 65-70 percent of both his marbles and money in the past year or so, it doesn’t seem very likely the Mets will re-sign Reyes. Simply put, the cash-strapped Mets don’t appear to have the funds necessary to spend big money on a free agent this offseason. Sadly, Reyes will likely be dealt before the trade deadline.

Three Strikes: World Series Fix, Dodgers Debt, and Sac Bunts

Cubs may have thrown 1918 World Series

The infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox may have gotten the idea to throw a World Series from their north side neighbors, the Cubs. At least that is the implication of a recently released court document. The evidence is vague and far less convincing than that in the Black Sox scandal, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think the Cubs may in fact have fixed their 1918 World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Say what you will about escalating salaries for major leaguers—at least we don’t have to worry about games being fixed (by the players, that is). Money, of course, was at the root of the World Series scandals. Players felt their owners were being stingy and so they opted for a quick and easy (if morally despicable) cash grab. These were players who worked other jobs in the offseason and used Spring Training to actually get into playing shape, two aspects of the game that are almost beyond believable considering player salaries today (the league minimum is $414,500).

While we can only hope higher salaries ensure pro athletes will play hard, we can guarantee they keep them from accepting bribes.

The same can’t be said of the officials, which is why we still can’t be certain games are always fair. We’ve seen it uncovered as recently as 2007 when NBA referee Tim Donaghy was indicted on charges of gambling on playoff games.

Gamblers betting big bucks can offer officials big bucks, enough to get them to believe it is worth the risk to fix a game, apparently. I don’t think the salaries of officials should be elevated to the point where accepting a bribe would be preposterous, so we can only hope the leagues do their best to prevent such behavior in other ways.

I doubt the rise in player salaries had anything to do with fixed games, but it is an unintended consequence that benefitted the game.

Dodgers seized by MLB; are Mets next?

After it was revealed that the Los Angeles Dodgers arranged a $30 million loan from the FOX television network in order to meet payroll, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball seized control of the club yesterday. “I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club,” Selig said in a statement.

In an interview earlier this month with Peter Keating of ESPN the Magazine, the commissioner was asked about the financial situations of various teams.

The Mag: How do you decide when a team is extended too far into debt? There have been reports of the Mets getting help from baseball, and the Dodgers have asked for a credit line.

Selig: We have debt-service rules that are a part of our economic structure. In the Mets’ case, there was a loan made, as there was to Texas, because a circumstance warranted it. We have a repayment schedule that makes sense. We made a business decision. We lend somebody money, they pay us back.

The Mag: About how many teams’ debt levels are you comfortable with right now?

Selig: Almost all.

It seems Selig added the word “almost” because of the Dodgers. Here in New York, Mets fans are wondering whether their team will suffer the same fate as their fellow National League club on the opposite coast. Only time will tell. At least the Dodgers don’t have the worst record in baseball.

Sacrifice bunting: Is it ever wise?

Speaking of the Mets, last night they hurt themselves in several ways, as they seem to do every game. Here’s one example: In the 9th inning, with the Mets trailing 4-3, manager Terry Collins ordered No. 2 hitter Josh Thole to bunt with speedster Jose Reyes on first and no outs. Statistics—of which there is never a shortage in baseball—show that sacrifice bunting is a bad idea in most cases. A team’s chances of scoring a run that inning decrease if a sac bunt is used (in this case, stats show that a runner has a better chance of eventually scoring from first with no outs than he does from second with one out).

I think this is especially true in this situation, where you have one of the best base stealers in baseball on first, a player who could get to second base on his own without giving up an out (and we won’t even get into whether the Mets should have been playing for more than one run considering their weak bullpen). The result of this play was Thole popping up his bunt attempt and Reyes getting doubled off first. Some blame goes to Thole for failing to get down the bunt; a little more goes to Reyes for losing focus; but the most blame has to go to the manager for calling this play in the first place.