There was an article by Mike Puma in yesterday’s NY Post that caught my attention. Mr. Puma states that Jeff Wilpon wants to trade Carlos Beltran, even though a trade appears unlikely because of his salary and his recent injury history. Although it is true that Beltran has not performed like the Carlos Beltran of old, I believe the Mets are being too quick on pulling the “let’s trade Carlos Beltran” trigger. Let’s review a few things about Carlos Beltran and then we’ll talk about a similar situation involving another centerfielder and the New York Mets.
Since coming to New York prior to the 2005 season, Carlos Beltran has been the most complete centerfielder in Mets history. He ranks among team leaders in many offensive categories. Despite the fact that he ranks 23rd in franchise history in games played, he ranks highly in the following categories:
- Runs scored: 478, 11th all-time (This leaves him only 12 behind Buddy Harrelson, a number that is certainly reachable this year.)
- Hits: 748, 15th all-time (He’s less than 50 hits away from passing Kevin McReynolds and Lee Mazzilli.)
- Doubles: 173, 9th all-time (With 20 more, he will tie Mike Piazza for the fifth-most doubles in franchise history.)
- Home runs: 129, 6th all-time (Only Strawberry, Piazza, Johnson, Wright and Kingman have more.)
- RBI: 480, 8th all-time (Recently passed Keith Hernandez, who played 164 more games with the Mets than Beltran has.)
- Stolen bases: 95, 12th all-time (Ten more steals puts him in the top 10.)
- On-base percentage: .366, 8th all-time among players with at least 1,000 at-bats (Barely behind Alfonzo and Piazza.)
- Slugging percentage: .496, 6th all-time among players with at least 1,000 at-bats (Behind Piazza, Strawberry, Wright, Delgado and Olerud.)
Carlos Beltran has always been a fine offensive player, but it’s his combination of offensive and defensive skills that set him apart from all other Mets centerfielders who have come before him.
The graceful Beltran won three Gold Gloves for his outstanding defensive play in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Did you know that those three Gold Glove Awards were the first ever awarded to a Mets outfielder? It’s true. Although many outstanding Mets players have roamed the outfield at the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium and Citi Field, no one had ever been rewarded with a Gold Glove until Beltran won his first of three consecutive awards in 2006. In fact, only Keith Hernandez has won more Gold Gloves as a Met, earning the prestigious award six times (1983-1988) while playing in New York. Rey Ordonez also won three Gold Gloves as a Met in 1997, 1998 and 1999. However, both Hernandez and Ordonez were infielders.
Beltran was always a fine defensive outfielder, but he was never rewarded with a Gold Glove while playing in Kansas City and Houston. It wasn’t until he came to the Mets that the voters finally recognized him for his spectacular defensive play.
One play that stands out above all others was his amazin’ catch in Houston three years ago. Despite the fact that the game was played on 7/7/07, luck had nothing to do with his catch of Luke Scott‘s potential game-winning blast. With two outs and two runners on base in the 14th inning of a 3-3 tie, Scott hit what looked like a game-winning walk-off hit. But Beltran put on his Gold Glove and chased after the ball, finally catching up to it after running up the incline in center field known as Tal’s Hill. The catch, reminiscent of Willie Mays’ catch against the Indians’ Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, saved the Mets from a defeat. Beltran’s catch wasn’t his last impact on the game, as his base hit in the 17th inning drove in the go-ahead run in a thrilling 5-3 Mets victory.
Since I mentioned Willie Mays in the previous paragraph, let’s talk a little more about the Hall-of-Fame centerfielder. Mays played most of his career with the New York/San Francisco Giants. His last great season was in 1966, when he hit .288, with 37 HR and 103 RBI. The Giants finished that season with a 93-68 record, just barely missing out on the National League pennant, which went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who finished with a 95-67 record.
From 1967-1971, Mays suffered through some injuries, missing a total of 129 games over the five years. During that five-year stretch, Mays averaged 21 HR and 70 RBI per season, a far cry from his 1966 season. However, the Giants continued to compete in the National League, winning between 86 and 91 games each of those five seasons. Their success, which included a division title in 1971, made it easier to digest Mays’ injuries and offensive dropoff.
But things changed in 1972. Gaylord Perry had been traded to Cleveland during the off-season. Perry had been with the Giants since 1962 and was part of a formidable one-two punch with Juan Marichal. His best years with the Giants came from 1966-1971, which coincided with Mays’ dropoff in production. In that six-year stretch, Perry won 110 games and posted a 2.75 ERA while averaging over 200 strikeouts per season. After leading the Giants to the playoffs in 1971 by winning 16 games and posting a 2.76 ERA, Perry was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Sam McDowell. McDowell had been the best pitcher on an otherwise poor Indians team for the better part of a decade. Over his tenure in Cleveland, McDowell won 122 games with a 2.99 ERA, while leading the American League in strikeouts five times. The trade appeared to be even at the time. However, Perry continued to flourish once he left San Francisco, eventually being elected to the Hall of Fame. Injuries sapped McDowell of his fastball and the fireballer only won 19 games over the rest of his career, which ended in 1975 with McDowell pitching out of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen.
The Giants won three of their first four games in 1972, but then lost Willie McCovey to an injury that kept him out of the lineup for nearly two months. With Perry no longer in the rotation and the injuries to McDowell and McCovey, the Giants started losing. On the morning of May 11, the Giants entered the day with an 8-16 record and were already seven games out of first place. The Giants were rapidly losing ground in the NL West standings and were also losing at the ticket office. The owner of the Giants, Horace Stoneham, was losing money and with all the key injuries ravaging his team, his lone box office draw was Willie Mays. But Stoneham couldn’t guarantee Mays that he could continue to pay him, especially since his skills had started to fade with the nagging injuries that had persisted since the end of the 1966 season. Therefore, Mays was traded to the New York Mets, where he finished his career in 1973 by playing in the World Series, while the Giants continued to suffer in the standings.
After the Giants traded away their centerfielder, the team hit rock bottom. From 1972-1986, the team never finished higher than third place in the NL West, finishing below .500 ten times over those 15 seasons. Garry Maddox was Mays’ first replacement in center field. Although he was a gifted defensive player, (Ralph Kiner once said “two thirds of the Earth is covered by water; the other third is covered by Garry Maddox.”) Maddox’s best offensive season wasn’t as good as a poor Willie Mays season. After Maddox left the team, the Giants started to play musical chairs with their centerfielders, using the likes on Von Joshua, Larry Herndon, Derrel Thomas and Bill North, to name a few. It wasn’t until Chili Davis became their centerfielder in the mid-’80s that the Giants found someone permanent for the position. It should come as no surprise that once the Giants found their first regular centerfielder since Willie Mays, they started winning again, as the Davis-led Giants won the NL West division title in 1987, making their first trip to the postseason since Willie Mays’ last full season in San Francisco in 1971.
So now we turn to the 2010 New York Mets. Carlos Beltran has suffered through some injuries over the past two seasons. At the same time, the Mets are not playing as well as they did during the 2006-2008 seasons, which coincided with Beltran’s best years on the team. Despite the fact that Beltran missed exactly half of the 2009 season, he still played well when he was on the field, batting a career-high .325, with 10 HR, 48 RBI, 50 runs scored and 11 stolen bases. This year has been a different story. Although Beltran claims to be healthy, he has only hit .217, with 2 HR and 14 RBI in the 39 games he’s played since returning from the disabled list. When you combine that type of performance with the $18.5 million he’s due in 2011 and the declining attendance at Citi Field, it’s no surprise that Jeff Wilpon is talking about trading him.
Jason Bay’s 2010 season (95 games played, .259 batting average, 6 HR, 47 RBI, 48 runs scored and 10 stolen bases). Kansas City could have gone in a different direction in 2001. After all, Johnny Damon was still a Royal in 2000, but he was their DH, not their centerfielder. Damon also had a year left on his contract, but the Royals decided to trade him away and give Beltran another chance to regain the status he earned with his 1999 season. The Royals were patient with Beltran and they were rewarded with another outstanding season. In 2001, Beltran hit .306, with 24 HR, 101 RBI, 106 runs scored and 31 stolen bases.
Beltran’s next major injury came last year with the Mets. He returned from that injury in September to pick up 67 late-season at-bats. His numbers over those 67 at-bats (.284 batting average, .377 on-base percentage) were on par with his career numbers (.282 batting average, .359 on-base percentage). Of course, Beltran started off slowly this year after he returned from the disabled list, but since August 12, he has picked up his game considerably. Before August 12, Beltran was hitting .185, with a .295 on-base percentage. In the 14 games he’s started since August 12, Beltran has hit .271 and has a .393 on-base percentage. He’s reached base in all 14 of those games (13 hits, 11 walks). Also, his play in the outfield has improved after a sluggish start where he was taking the wrong route to the ball and allowing balls to fall in for hits.
The other thing Wilpon should consider before thinking of trading away Beltran is that next season is the final year of his contract. Beltran has played for a contract once before in 2004. In that season, split between the Kansas City Royals and the Houston Astros, Beltran has a massive season. Although he only hit .267, he swatted 38 HR and had 104 RBI. He also scored 121 runs and stole a career-high 42 bases. He followed that up with one of the best postseason runs in baseball history. In 12 NLDS and NLCS games with the Astros, Beltran hit .435, with 8 HR, 14 RBI, a whopping 21 runs scored and 6 stolen bases. The end result of that season was the seven-year, $119 million contract given to him by the Mets. With Beltran entering his walk year in 2011, it will behoove him to have another productive season if he wants one more multi-year deal.
Let’s face it. Many Mets fans will never forgive Beltran for taking strike three from Adam Wainwright in the 2006 NLCS. No matter what he does or has done, that’s the first thing some fans will remember about his tenure in New York. To those Mets fans, he’ll be like Bill Buckner. Buckner’s error may have helped the Red Sox lose the World Series to the Mets in 1986, but how many people remember that Buckner was a major reason why the Red Sox were as good as they were? Buckner hit a career-high 18 HR for Boston in 1986 and completed his second consecutive 100 RBI season for the Red Sox after only driving in 100 runs in a season once before in his career. His best seasons came in Boston, but all Red Sox fans remember is the little roller up along first.
Carlos Beltran holds the single season runs scored record for the Mets. His 41 HR in 2006 are tied for the most home runs in a single season. He is the only Met to drive in at least 110 runs in a season three times. Mike Piazza never did it. David Wright never did it. All-time Met RBI leader Darryl Strawberry never did it. He is the only Mets outfielder to win a Gold Glove and he’s done it three times. He’s come through in the clutch many times before. He hit numerous walk-off home runs for the Mets, including the memorable 16th inning blast off Ryan Madson of the Phillies and the ninth inning two-run homer off Jason Isringhausen in 2006, in a game that also featured Carlos Delgado‘s 400th career HR. Although most people remember what he did to end the 2006 NLCS, Beltran had come up big in that series prior to that at-bat. His two-run HR in Game 1 provided all the runs scored in the 2-0 Mets victory. His two home runs in Game 4 helped the Mets tie the series and guaranteed them a trip back to Shea Stadium. As stated before, his defense has also directly contributed to Mets victories.
Carlos Beltran has been hampered by injuries over the past two seasons, but that doesn’t mean his career is done. It also doesn’t mean he can’t have a productive 2011 season. On the contrary, he might surprise a few people next year who have given up on him. Willie Mays was also having subpar (for him), injury-plagued seasons prior to his trade to the Mets in 1972. Once he left, the Giants had trouble replacing what he gave to the team and they suffered for many years because of it.
Mets fans shouldn’t be asking for Carlos Beltran’s departure from the team. He should be given another chance to help the team out in 2011. He has something to prove, both to himself and to the team. He’s done it before. He can do it again. Be careful what you wish for, Mets fans. Some of you might not want him now, but when he’s gone, he will be missed. You might not see a player of his caliber patrolling the vast outfield at Citi Field for quite some time once he’s no longer around.