Apr 21

April 21.10: Although news not good on Beltran, it was still a good signing.

The news isn’t good on Carlos Beltran, who was examined Tuesday in Vail, Colo. Beltran remains in neutral with no word on a potential return that is anything other than guesswork.

Beltran, who underwent knee surgery in the offseason, hasn’t been cleared to start running. And, until he runs there’s no telling when he’ll begin baseball activities, and after that a return to the line-up.

Initially, the prognosis was up to six weeks following running for a return in May. That’s not happening. Try June now, or maybe after the All-Star break. Who is to say? I mean, who is to say with any authority?

“It’s kind of unfortunate,’’ manager Jerry Manuel said. “But what we have to do is we have to continue to play the way we have the last three or four games and hope that Carlos recovers quickly. He’s obviously an integral part of our lineup, but Angel (Pagan) is playing real well.’’

Maybe so, but there’s a reason why Pagan is a role player and Beltran a perennial All-Star.

Let’s assume at least until the end of June at the earliest. For now, Pagan is the center fielder. Gary Matthews will be kept for insurance. For now I don’t believe they’ll bring up Fernando Martinez as long as Pagan is producing.

I’ve always liked Beltran. He works hard, he hustles and he plays hurt. This was an unfortunate injury, but it would be unfair to say he was a bad signing.

This is a player who played hurt. I don’t think it would be fair to say just because this injury has lasted that the Mets should regret signing Beltran. This guy showed what he is made of when he played with a broken face after his collision with Mike Cameron.

The only thing of hindsight was the issue of the surgery. It should have been done last year, not last winter. Had it been done in September instead of trying to get him back in a lost season they might have him now.

Apr 16

April 16.10: Paging Carlos Beltran.

General manager Omar Minaya gave us a projection early this month that Carlos Beltran would be back around late May, which was four to six weeks after resuming baseball activities.

Well, that time frame is right now and Beltran hasn’t even begun running. Based on what’s going on, we might be looking now at June if not July and the All-Star break.

Fact is, Beltran, if he hasn’t started running, doesn’t have any real timetable. They can say four to six weeks from baseball activities all night, but they have no idea when that will be.

Would it surprise you if we didn’t see Beltran to the second half of the season if at all? Wouldn’t shock me.

Part of the fallout of Beltran’s absence is the issue of Jose Reyes batting third.

Here’s what Jeff Francoeur has to say about it: “I don’t want to see that. Not at all. He’s the most dynamic leadoff hitter in the game, and I want to see him there. Who knows what we’ll do? But I’m just saying, he’s never been really a run producer. He’s been more of a guy to score 150 runs. … I’m just saying, I think he’s the most dynamic leadoff hitter in the league… Reyes has always hit leadoff to me for a reason. He’s the best. He gets on base, steals, makes things happen.’’

Jerry Manuel says he wants Reyes to maintain his same approach in the three hole. It will never happen because the demands and job description batting third differ from batting first. Reyes gets into trouble when he plays outside himself and attempts to loft the ball instead of hitting it on the ground and line drives into the gap.

You will see a definite change in Reyes’ approach if they go ahead with this.

The No. 3 hitter should be the team’s best hitter, which is to say the best combination of average and power, and that’s David Wright.

There is nobody who comes close to being able to do what Reyes does as the leadoff hitter. For years we’ve been hearing how Reyes is the catalyst to the Mets offense. Why would they want to tinker with that?

Feb 08

Feb. 8.10: Let’s not get carried away.

The Mets got some positive news when 21–year-old outfield prospect Fernando Martinez was named MVP of the Caribbean Series. They should, however, resist the temptation to say he’s ready because it was a 23-at-bat sampling in which he hit .348 with two home runs. The Mets have rushed prospects before and I don’t want to see them toy with Martinez’s confidence.

Assuming the best on Carlos Beltran, I’m sure center field will be safe with Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr., in the interim, which should be a couple of months. Martinez wouldn’t get regular at-bats and would only be sent down once Beltran is ready.

I’m still thinking the prudent decision would be for him to get regular playing time in Triple-A and then make an evaluation around the All-Star break whether he should be promoted for the second half.

Jan 24

Jan. 24.10: Let’s big-picture this.

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

In 2006, the Mets finished 97-65, winning the National League East by 12 games. It would be fair to say that is when the window was open at its widest for this core of Mets. And, we’re talking David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. While that core has remained largely productive, the rest of the team, in particular it’s pitching, has not.

The strength of the 2006 team was arguably its bullpen, which picked up the slack for a consistent, but hardly spectacular rotation.

Despite signing Billy Wagner, at the time an All-Star caliber closer, Omar Minaya let two significant keys to that pen, Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford, get away. The Mets have been struggling to get a bullpen chemistry since. An argument can be made the chemistry started to fizzle with the decline of Aaron Heilman, who was so good in 2006 save that pitch to Yadier Molina.

Even so, the team started strong in 2007, taking a 34-18 record into June. Would we all agree that 2006 and the first two months of 2007 was when the Mets’ star burned its brightest?

They finished 54-56 the rest of the way in 2007, including a collapse in which they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. Much of the downward spiral was traced to a bullpen bridge that could not get to Wagner.

Since June 1, 2007, the Mets are 20 games below .500 – including another collapse in 2008 – and the refrain was the same after each season: The pitching is the problem. The 2008 team, by the way, blew 29 save opportunities.

It’s a double-edged sword: The bullpen is overworked and ineffective. But, the reason it is overworked is because the Mets aren’t getting quality innings from their starters.

For those who think I’m being too negative, those are the numbers.

I realize 2009 was a unique season because of injuries, but even under the assumption the core offensive players return to form this season, there remains largely the same pitching staff. Never mind the team’s hot start one-third into the last season, more representative of their performance was the remaining two-thirds.

Getting Johan Santana was a significant gesture of improvement, but he makes 34 starts a year. The pennant is won or lost in the remaining 128 games, and this is where the Mets are weak and have not improved.

Even Santana is a partial question as he’s coming off surgery. The team says he’ll be ready, but said the same thing about John Maine. Maine’s durability, along with his presence, are questions. We don’t know what we’ll get from Oliver Perez inning to inning, much less game to game. And, Mike Pelfrey has regressed. And, well, there is no fifth starter, yet.

Yes, Jason Bay will improve the offense, but in reality aren’t we subbing his numbers for that of a healthy Delgado? And, there’s another hole with the loss of Beltran. So, just how much better is the offense, really? And, what if Wright doesn’t regain his power stroke? Can we say for sure Reyes is back?

Bottom line: We can’t say the core is back to normal or will get that way.

In that case, it falls again on the pitching, which is the same pitching that failed miserably the last two-and-a-half seasons.

Jan 07

Jan. 7.10: Very disappointed.

I’m extremely disappointed in my colleagues for not voting Roberto Alomar into the Hall of Fame. Part of the criteria is to dominate your position for an extended length of time, which is what Alomar did at second base in the American League.

Alomar was a player who could beat you in so many ways. He was a five-tool player. A perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner, he was the standard for second basemen during his career.

The only blemish on his resume was the spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck. It was out of character and he paid for it. But, he shouldn’t have to pay for it any longer.

He got my vote. He’ll get it again.