Before the season, I wrote that this could be the year the Mets take back New York from the Yankees. The Mets enter this weekend’s Subway Series with the best record in baseball and an 11-game win streak. I wrote about their perfect week, as well as an accomplishment from a former Met, an MVP matchup (the first of its kind in MLB history), and some fun catches in my recap for CBS Local.
The game ended and I had the urge to go to Citi Field. That’s where Johan Santana had just thrown the first no-hitter in New York Mets history, and I felt I should be there. It was like a pilgrimage, if a pilgrimage can include the subway. I took the N train to Queensboro Plaza, transferred to the 7, and rode the 13 stops to Mets-Willets Point. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do when I got there.
As it turned out, I walked around the stadium, took a few pictures, and looked for discarded ticket stubs (I didn’t find any, though it was so windy that any that had been left outside the stadium may have blown halfway to Westchester). I heard a couple of guys talking about their co-workers who had left the game early because of the weather (too windy for them?). A vendor was selling, in his words, “no-hitter programs” for $5. They sell programs for each series, not each game, and $5 wasn’t a post-game discount, so if I want one I can get it tomorrow, when I’ll be there for the game. Of course, I wish I had been at this one.
I’m embarrassed to say this, but I dreamed about Carlos Beltran last night. That, by itself, is not something to be ashamed of, especially for a die-hard baseball fan. The embarrassing part is that I woke myself up shouting, “We’ll miss you, Carlos!” It was one of those moments where I was semi-aware I was sleep-talking, but fell back asleep before I could really process anything.
Carlos Beltran was traded yesterday to the San Francisco Giants for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, the deal becoming official today.* It was 7.5 years ago that Beltran signed with the New York Mets. Can you believe it’s been that long?
*Given that I’ve never seen Wheeler pitch I’ll just say, all things considered, it seems like a fair trade. It could be great for both teams: the Giants are hoping Beltran helps them defend their World Series title and the Mets hope Wheeler turns into a front-of-the-rotation starter down the line. But 21-year-old pitching prospects are unpredictable and nothing is guaranteed when it comes to playoff baseball, so who really knows?
I wrote about Beltran in the middle of May, noting he was underappreciated by many Mets fans. Since then, the internet campaign to make these people realize Beltran’s value has intensified tenfold. I wrote then that I thought Beltran’s eventual departure would lead to a case of “don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” but as these last couple of months have shown, it’s been more like “don’t know what you’ve got until you realize he’ll inevitably be traded to a contender.”
I find it admirable, but sort of fruitless, that Beltran’s fans have come to his defense. Fans are free to choose their favorite players and it’s not too surprising Beltran wasn’t a popular choice. Fans prefer homegrown talent and the Mets have Jose Reyes and David Wright. After that, they gravitate towards the Joe McEwings, Benny Agbayanis, and Turk Wendells—players who don’t quite look right in a baseball uniform and possess maybe two of the five tools, but find a way to contribute. A great achievement by someone like Beltran would often be followed by, “Yeah, well he’s supposed to do that, he’s paid a billion dollars.”
So if you want to remember Beltran with his bat on his shoulder in Game Six, cool. I’m going to remember him running up that ridiculous hill in Houston. I’m going to remember him making Gary Cohen say, “We’re going home!” I’m going to remember “El Esta Aqui.”
Of course, el no esta aqui, not anymore. I guess my dream was fitting, because from the time I started following baseball to 2004 I could only dream of the Mets having a center fielder like Carlos Beltran. Now I can only dream of one day having another like him.
There has been a lot of talk about a potential New York Mets fire sale. This intensified after Francisco Rodriguez was traded, with fans and writers suggesting Sandy Alderson would gut the roster in order to cut payroll and build for the future. While I certainly don’t think the Mets should or will be buyers at the July 31sttrade deadline, I realize a significant roster makeover is also unlikely.
Jose Reyes, shortstop
Reyes, another free agent after the season, will not get traded. If he were dealt, well, given that I know the location of Alderson’s suite I’d probably have to stay far away from Citi Field. In all seriousness, fans would make the Mets pay for dealing Reyes by not showing up for the meaningless games in August and September. Also, more importantly, Alderson has all but guaranteed Reyes will not be traded. Whether he is re-signed at the end of the season is another story.
David Wright, third baseman
Wright is owed $15 million next year and has a team option for $16 million in 2013. That team option only applies to the Mets, a fact that can’t be stressed enough when discussing Wright’s trade value. Any team that wants to deal for Wright realizes it will only get one full year out of him, while the Mets, if they keep him, will get two years. That makes him a lot more valuable to the Mets than to any other team. In other words, I see very little chance that Wright gets traded. (Note: Wright is currently on the disabled list and an interesting MLB rule states that players on the DL can not be traded.)
Mike Pelfrey, starting pitcher
Pelfrey is earning nearly $4 million this season, so the Mets were hoping for a lot better than a 5-9 record and 4.67 ERA from their Opening Day starter. Pelfrey is not a free agent until after the 2013 season, but his salary could increase through arbitration the next couple of seasons. Considering the Mets had to offer just $1.5 million to acquire Chris Capuano (8-8, 4.12 ERA), Pelfrey is not cheap. I just don’t see the Mets getting much in return for Big Pelf, making him an unlikely trade candidate.
|Beltran will be traded. Wright (back left) will not. Brian Schneider (back right) was once part of a deal for Lastings Milledge. (Credit: Keith Allison)|
Jonathon Niese, starting pitcher; Daniel Murphy, infielder; Bobby Parnell, relief pitcher; Ike Davis, first baseman
These players are valuable to other teams, but they are more valuable to the Mets because they are inexpensive. All of them make a figure close to the MLB minimum of $414,000 (Niese is the highest paid at $452,000). These players won’t be arbitration eligible until 2013, yet they are valuable contributors to the club right now (except Davis, who is on the DL).
Johan Santana, starting pitcher
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Santana, who is on the DL as he recovers from elbow surgery. Even if Santana were to return late this season and pitch well, do you think any team would take on $49.5 million for two years’ worth of a 33-year-old pitcher?
Jason Bay, left fielder
That leaves the “tweeners” like Jason Isringhausen and Tim Byrdak, who won’t cost a trade partner more than a low-level prospect (or a significant financial commitment). They have showed they can be of value to a contending team looking to bolster its bullpen down the stretch.
I’d have to agree that the trading of Rodriguez, Beltran, and Reyes would constitute a fire sale (despite involving just three players). I just don’t see it happening. K-Rod’s departure was necessary, everyone has seen the writing on the wall with Beltran since last year, and Reyes will not be traded. Alderson could plant an “Everything Must Go” sign in front of Citi Field and it wouldn’t make a difference.
NEW YORK–The next time Terry Collins rips into his team he should make sure the next day’s starting pitcher is there. Thursday’s starter, Mike Pelfrey, had long left the ballpark when Collins gave the Mets a motivational tongue-lashing after Wednesday night’s game.
Pelfrey allowed three runs in the first inning, three more in the second, and seven total in his five innings of work. But the Mets’ hitters certainly got the message, overcoming a 7-0 deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-8 at Citi Field on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. It tied the second biggest comeback in franchise history.
The first sign of life came on a three-run home run to left field by Carlos Beltran in the third inning, a missile that hit the facade of the second deck. “When you need him, he’s there for you,” Collins said, a truth that many Mets fans often forget. Collins had been asking his three hitter if he wanted a day off, but Beltran told his skipper he felt good. “Guys are out,” he said, referring to David Wright and Ike Davis, among others. “I need to be in there.”
|The view from the press box.|
Beltran got the Mets started but Ruben Tejada, a 21-year-old who looks 16, collected a huge hit in the four-run seventh. With the bases loaded and two outs, it was Tejada’s single to right that plated two and cut the deficit to 7-5. Two batters later he scored the tying run on a wild pitch. In a bizarre eighth inning, his sac fly gave the Mets the lead.
|Mets manager Terry Collins addresses the media.|
After the game, reporters surrounded Tejada’s locker. After getting dressed, he stood up to leave. “We’re here to talk to you,” a reporter informed him. “Oh,” said the shy Tejada before returning to his locker to quietly answer questions.
|Mike Pelfrey was happy to get off the hook.|
It is refreshing to have guys like Tejada on the big league roster. I could see him at shortstop in the near future but I’d rather see him next to Jose Reyes for the next six years or so. For now I’ll enjoy watching Tejada sparkle in the field and continue to improve at the plate. “I think he can be a very good major league hitter,” Collins said.
|Carlos Beltran and his stylish Hawaiian shirt|
He also said he hoped the win would be something they could feed off, but baseball usually doesn’t work like that. Sure enough, the Mets blew a 3-1 lead in the eighth last night and lost to Atlanta 6-3. The Mets have been outscored 82-33 in the eighth and ninth innings this season. Collins can’t turn this group into a playoff contender, but for one afternoon at least, the Mets gave fans a reason to cheer.
|If this were A-Rod wearing an A-Rod shirt, it would be pathetic. With Wright, it’s humorous.|
A man shares his thoughts about the Mets during an April 20th game against the Houston Astros at Citi Field. The Mets lost, 4-3, to fall to 5-13 on the season, the franchise’s worst start since 1964. It was their ninth loss in their past 10 games and seventh straight home defeat, the unquestioned low point of the season (so far).
The guy calls the Mets “shitty,” said David Wright—who was in an 0-for-19 slump—is a “very good player” but “not a superstar,” and labeled Carlos Beltran an overpaid shell of his former self.
But this was not Tony from Astoria calling WFAN for a late-night rant. This was not an orange-and-blue-clad loudmouth in section 522. This was not even a Post columnist putting an underachieving team in its place in Thursday’s paper. This was Fred Wilpon, the owner of the New York Mets.
It’s easy to see what Wilpon’s intentions were when he agreed to give Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker access for a feature on his financial troubles: the public would be impressed by his rags-to-riches story; it would show he did care about the on-field results; he would gain sympathy regarding the Bernie Madoff situation.
On those fronts, the article was a success. But Wilpon revealed too much of his inner fan, ripping the team that just this past weekend had climbed back to .500 by beating the Yankees, a franchise whose deceased former owner made a habit of calling out his players.
|I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this photo.|
That is not to say Wilpon’s comments were out of touch. Many fans would agree with his assessments. Wright is a career .300 hitter capable of 30 home runs and 20 steals, but even if “superstar,” a subjective term, is applied generously it probably excludes the streaky Wright. As I’ve written before, many fans associate Beltran with his Game 7 strikeout, as Wilpon does.
As for Jose Reyes, who Wilpon said has “had everything wrong with him” and therefore won’t be getting a Carl Crawford-esque contract, I have to disagree. Reyes will get a huge contract if he stays healthy this season—it just won’t be from the Mets, apparently.
Will Wilpon’s interview negatively affect the Mets going forward? It can’t help, but anyone who thinks it will make it harder to sign free agents is misinformed (baseball players, 99 percent of the time, care about one thing: money). It’s possible the Mets did lose bargaining power should they explore a trade for Reyes or Beltran, though we’ll likely never know for sure.
The New Yorker article confirmed some of the unflattering beliefs of Mets fans the past few years: Wilpon loves the Dodgers (“All the Dodger stuff [in Citi Field]—that was an error of judgment on my part,” Wilpon said); the Mets are clueless when it comes to media and public relations. But is also portrayed the owner as just another disgruntled fan—albeit a rich one who has more control over the team than he seems to realize.
During that April game against Houston, the Mets trailed by one heading into the ninth when Reyes led off with a single. “I’d have him steal,” Wilpon told Toobin. “We’ve had three blown bunts already tonight. I don’t like bunt here.” Mets manager Terry Collins called for a bunt, which was popped up just in front of the pitcher’s mound and turned into a double play that killed any potential rally.
Like the rest of us watching that game, the Mets owner just wanted to see Reyes steal a base. He knows better than most that he won’t get to see it for much longer.
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.