Carlos Beltran Is The True Catalyst

After an almost full-season furlough, Mets fans eagerly anticipated Jose Reyes’ return to the Mets lineup on Saturday, April 10, of this year.  It sounded and seemed as though the Mets themselves needed that shock of adrenaline that only Reyes could provide.  The infectious style of play by the “catalyst,” as he has been called in the past, was truly missed.  According to most Mets experts in and out of Metsopotamia, Reyes was the one thing that the Mets could not miss in the lineup.

Without Reyes, the Mets were like cheese without macaroni, a PB without the J, etc etc.  You get my drift, I’m sure.  Surely, as the saying went, as Jose Reyes goes, so do the Mets.

You’d have thought that by now, Reyes’ return would have yielded dividends to the nth degree.  Not so fast there, pardner.  Currently, the Mets record is one game below .500 at 22-23 (five games behind first place, however dead last in the NL East); since April 10, they’ve gone 20-21 almost fittingly, even losing Reyes’ first game back at CitiField.

I know it is still incredibly early, but since Reyes’ return, they have not only stayed the course of being one game below .500, Reyes still has not found his groove.  Currently, his stats stand at .222/.266/.284.  Granted, this is after some disastrous experimentation with his role in the lineup.  Not to mention, the rest of the team has been playing quite inconsistently, to put it mildly.

I’ve raised the question to myself in that — is Jose Reyes TRULY the catalyst of this team?  We have been led to believe that the return of Jose Reyes was going to cure the ills of the team that have plagued them since their injury-ridden 2009. Whether that was a bold statement or just merely unbelievable, the fact is, Jose Reyes’ return did not impact the lineup as we thought it would.

I believe it takes a village to be a baseball team; however, something has indeed been missing in the Mets lineup.  And that “something” is Carlos Beltran.

If you know The Coop outside of Metsmerized, you would know that I have been incredibly hard on Beltran in the past.  I always called him out for his injuries that would suddenly appear when he was slumping (which incidentally would catch the management by surprise).  Admittedly, prior to 2008, I never appreciated his five-star defense, and his five-tool approach to the game.  My how my opinions have changed.  Pre-season 2009, I predicted Beltran would have been a Most Valuable Player candidate.  In his abbreviated 2009 seasons, it was evident to me that not only was Beltran “the man,” he had an agenda, some unfinished business due to the 2007 collapse and narrowly missing the playoffs again in 2008.

Without him in the lineup, it has become increasingly evident to me that not only is Beltran THE catalyst to the team, he is the integral part that could make that proverbial leap from being merely “competitive” to being playoff-worthy not to mention playoff-bound.

While Jerry Manuel chooses his lineup Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey style (where the donkey could be the names of each individual player), as of last night, the lineup stood as such: Reyes, Alex Cora (or Luis Castillo), Jason Bay, Ike Davis, David Wright, Angel Pagan, Rod Barajas, Jeff Francoeur, Pitcher.  While I actually agree with Manuel that Davis should be batting cleanup NOW, I think most of you would agree that a rookie with the team just over a month batting cleanup is not only crazy, but raises a red flag as to the holes in this lineup caused directly by the absence of Carlos Beltran.

Look no further than David Wright.  Wright has hit in many different spots in the lineup this short season, but one thing is for certain: at times, he simply looks overmatched at the plate.  Traditionally, DW has been a 30HR/100RBI type of player, yet the second Beltran was out of the lineup on a regular basis last season, his power numbers declined significantly.  Critics were quick to point out that CitiField was not a home-run haven (funny, tell that to the other teams).  The other explanation, one that this blogger could get behind, is that DW put a lot of pressure on himself.  Without other viable offensive threats in the lineup once Carlos Delgado, Reyes and Beltran all went down for long stretches, he had to make adjustments to his swing not to mention carry the offensive burden on his shoulders.  With Bay and Davis “protecting” him in the lineup, we’ve seen a bit of the DW we all know and love, with 8HRs/33RBIs, but still has a lower-than-his-career-average BA of .261 currently.

Jason Bay has never played a game with Beltran yet to me, it is evident that Beltran’s absence is hurting him even.  Bay’s “contract year” with the Red Sox in 2009 yielded him a .267/.384/.547 line with 36HRs/119RBIs.  While his stat line suggests he is strong in the offensive categories .307/.395/.472, his supporting numbers are shockingly low with a paltry 3HRs and 19RBIs.  With protection such as a strikeout prone DW, free-swinging Frenchy and I’m a Big Boy Now Davis, it’s no wonder that Jason Bay has not lived up to the hype.

Kind of reminds me of another guy easing himself into his first contract year with the Mets.  The 2005 version of Carlos Beltran.  Like many, I’m sure, I’ve unfairly judged Beltran based on that one season, where he could hardly find himself or his legs, that he claimed were operating at less than 100% (he had an exact percentage out there, but I forget exactly what it was.  89.5%?).  His first season with the Mets left a lot to be desired, .266/.330/.414 with 16 HRs/78 RBIs.  The argument was Carlos Beltran was only as good as Carlos Delgado’s protection in 2006, with his stats going up significantly in .275/.388/.594 and 41HRs/116RBIs.  I disagree, to an extent.  Delgado provided great protection in the lineup, yet Beltran walked 95 times in 2006.  Typically he batted before Delgado as #3 in the lineup.  Why on earth would any pitcher in his right mind walk Beltran knowing Delgado’s looming bat was in the distance.  Beltran scored 127 runs in 2006.  Fans always point to Reyes scoring lots of runs but we cannot discount that Beltran scoring runs in the middle of the lineup was perhaps more significant to the outcome of the game than Reyes’ batting leadoff.

When Beltran returned to the team September 8, 2009, the Mets had already ceded that they would be no more than fourth place in the division, with a record of 62-76.  While they went 8-16 for the rest of the season (one could argue that had more to do with the pitiful pitching rotation that was being thrown out every day), Beltran continued where he left off June of that year keeping his stat line .325/.415/.500.

I’m waiting for Jose Reyes to prove me wrong and have his style of play infect the rest of the team.  As of today, that has not exactly happened.  Whether or not he hits, gets on base, or does well, the Mets have been teetering on the see-saw of .500 baseball since Reyes’ return.  If Carlos Beltran came back on the team before Reyes, I have to believe his bat and play would make more of a difference than Reyes’ return did.

Carlos Beltran will become a free agent after the 2011 season.  This signing could go down as one of the priciest in Mets history yet one that did not pay off in dividends.  Beltran, of course, could overperform in his “contract year” and could lead the Mets to a World Series title.  ‘

Currently, there is a black hole in the three-spot in the lineup that Jose Reyes, Jason Bay, not even David Wright can fix.  Angel Pagan is a good player, but he is NOT Carlos Beltran. He is a marginal platoon player, at best fourth outfielder.

I would have to say that Carlos Beltran is the true catalyst of the Mets, as he has impacted the lineup with his absence more so than Reyes’ presence.  His presence will also bring the team up leaps and bounds over how they are performing now.  I hope this all changes when he returns after his injury.  If he does in 2010.