I read a solid article entitled “What If Billy Wagner Never Got Hurt?” by Brian Joura of Mets 360. Brian not only contemplates what could have been in the second half of the 2008 season, but also what might have transpired if the Mets signed an outfielder instead of K-Rod later that offseason.
We have seen how good Wagner has been this season. If Wagner had not been injured in 2008, the Mets probably have an additional playoff appearance under their belt, the team is probably better in 2010 (subtracting Bay for Abreu/Dunn plus other addition) and now the team would not have to be gearing up for a fight with Rodriguez and the Players’ Association over plans to weasel out of part or all of the remaining money they owe the injured reliever.
It got me to thinking, and I started wondering the same thing about Carlos Beltran… What if Carlos Beltran never got hurt in 2009?
Let’s look at the landscape in the National League East on June 21st, 2009, the last game Beltran played before being placed on the DL two days later. He went 2-4 with a walk in that game despite playing through pain.
Even though the Mets had already lost their leadoff hitter Jose Reyes, and their cleanup hitter Carlos Delgado, the team was playing solid baseball and found themselves in second place only two games behind the front-running Phillies, and in the lead for the Wild Card by one game.
How could the Mets lose two significant pieces like Delgado and Reyes from their lineup and still be in contention with only two weeks before the All Star Break?
Two words… Carlos Beltran.
You always hear the old saying, as Reyes goes so do the Mets… Well not in 2009. That year, Beltran was primed for the best season in his career, and was practically carrying the team on his back. He was batting a league leading .336 and ranked second only to Albert Pujols with a .952 OPS. Beltran also led the league in runs scored, extra-base hits, and on-base percentage. He was in the midst of a monster season, and if the Mets were missing Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado after they got hurt, they sure didn’t show any signs of it thanks to Beltran’s mighty performance.
I wonder what might have been if Beltran had continued on that torrid pace, and how much better the team would have been if they still made the trade that landed them the red hot Jeff Francoeur in the second half of that season. It was about that time that Pagan started to emerge as a strong performer and Sheffield was a huge bat off the bench.
Daniel Murphy also got hot in the second half and posted a .798 OPS after after a dismal .677 OPS in the first half.
Also, when Billy Wagner returned from the DL later that season, he was throwing harder and better than before his surgery, and he would have bolstered a bullpen that was already holding its own with Fernando Nieve (2.95), Elmer Dessens (3.31) and Ken Takahashi (2.96) proving to be surprisingly effective.
The starting pitching was actually more effective in the second half than in the first half. From a WHIP standpoint, they were allowing fewer baserunners and had an increased strikeout rate, but of course the diminished run support proved fatal.
We’ll never know what might have happened if Beltran had never gotten hurt of course, but what we do know was that after Beltran was placed on the DL, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and the Mets went into a downward spiral that they never recovered from.
I believe that losing Beltran impacted the team more adversely than losing Billy Wagner. While Brian argues that the aftermath of losing Wagner led to the signing of Francisco Rodriguez, you could also say that losing Beltran contributed to signing Jason Bay to what I consider a worse contract. That money could have been better spent on securing a top of the rotation starter like Roy Halladay or John Lackey last offseason.
A healthy Beltran who was in his prime and an MVP caliber performer, would have headlined a superior defensive outfield flanked by Angel Pagan in left and Jeff Francoeur in right to start the season in 2010.
It also would have meant a serious 1-2 punch in Johan Santana and Halladay/Lackey at the top of the rotation, and Takahashi would have remained in the bullpen as the team’s setup man.
Sometimes, one injury could have a tremendous ripple effect on the present and long term future of a team. I feel that Beltran’s injury had more negative shock waves for the Mets than Wagner’s injury. The team had much more invested in Beltran financially, and Wagner was never considered part of the core group of players.