The inevitable happened and Carlos Beltran is now a member of the San Francisco Giants, where he has an opportunity to atone for taking strike three against Adam Wainwright in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.
One thing for certain is he wasn’t going to get it from the Mets, even had he stayed.
After two injury riddled seasons and the Mets’ financial empire crumbling, we knew Beltran wouldn’t finish out the year. Saddled with a contract that didn’t allow compensatory draft picks, the Mets had to get something before he walked this winter.
General manager Sandy Alderson did as well as could be expected in getting one of the Giants’ top pitching prospects in Zachary Wheeler. He did so because San Francisco has a young and loaded rotation. F0r the Giants to repeat, they need a bat and Beltran was the best on the market.
In theory, the trade could help the Giants win this year and the rebuilding Mets in the future.
Unquestionably, Beltran’s agent, Scott Boras, played a persuasive role, as he made the impression to his client that with several salaries coming off the books next year, the Giants could have the resources to make an extension.
In dealing Beltran, the Mets gave up arguably the franchise’s most complete position player, even over Darryl Strawberry, David Wright and Jose Reyes. Beltran has all the tools and the Mets were lucky to have him. Unfortunately, too many Mets’ fans have a block on Beltran, and he hasn’t received the appreciation warranted a multiple All-Star.
His first year in New York wasn’t pleasant as he was weighed down by the expectations of the contract. He struggled on the big stage which wasn’t surprising. That Beltran could not perform in New York is erroneous thinking, fostered by many columnists who didn’t see past that night’s box score or their deadlines.
Beltran played hurt and finished that first season playing with multiple fractures in his face after an outfield collision with Mike Cameron. He toughness never should have been questioned again, but it was.
There was also criticism he wasn’t a leader in the clubhouse, but he had subtle moments with Ruben Tejada and Reyes. Besides, it wasn’t his clubhouse. The team marketed itself around Wright and Reyes. They were the face of the Mets and should have taken a more demonstrative role. Beltran felt uncomfortable being vocal when the perception was it should come from others.
Concurrently, the Mets loaded up on veterans such as Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou and Paul LoDuca who were more vocal than the naturally shy Beltran. Delgado was a divisive presence and undercut Willie Randolph, especially regarding Reyes. Beltran couldn’t compete with that noise.
Don’t forget, as a young player, Beltran’s first years in professional baseball were spent without mastery of the English language. He was still naturally quiet and shy when he arrived in New York and it wasn’t in his demeanor to lecture a teammate. Beltran lead by example by what he did on the field.
I saw him countless times pull over a young player in batting practice, or quietly stop by a locker to offer encouragement. He frequently did this with Reyes. He tried to do it with Lastings Milledge, but Milledge was beyond help. This year he spoke to Tejada when the latter didn’t run out a ball. He just did it in a manner that didn’t attract attention to himself.
Through it all, when healthy, Beltran produced and played a sterling centerfield. He was the player the Mets wanted up to face Wainwright, who threw the nastiest curveball of his career that night. Wainwright caught Beltran looking. He would have caught Ty Cobb looking with that pitch. Had Beltran swung and made contact it would have likely resulted in a weak pop-up or grounder.
It is a one-on-one game and Wainwright won. Simple as that.
There were plenty of other goats from that game which kept the Mets from the World Series, including Jose Valentin and Aaron Heilman. It was a team loss and Beltran played a small role. To be vilified for one at-bat is unfair and wrong. Many would say it is typical knee-jerk New York.
They fell short of the World Series and Mets fans hold that against Beltran despite the collapses in 2007 and 2008, two more years when he produced. Beltran, unfairly, personified the window slamming shut, when there were other villains, including Omar Minaya’s failure to rebuild the bullpen and rotation, and for sticking with veterans such as Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Alou too long, plus the horrendous signings of Guillermo Mota, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the Mets’ failure not to follow up on 2006, and Beltran gets some when you include his injuries the past two years, compounded by how the Mets handled his surgery. Had Beltran been taken care of properly, perhaps he might have produced more last season which might have prompted an earlier trade and getting more in the market.
That’s speculation, but what isn’t hindsight is the Mets were heading into perilous financial waters during the time of Beltran’s injury and it was a matter of when they would trade one of their best commodities.
Mets’ fans should remember a player who produced, who played hurt, and had the respect of his teammates. They should also remember one of the best position players ever to perform for the franchise.
Unfortunately, that has been blurred by the past two years and this financially motivated trade.