An Under-appreciated All-Star: A Case For Carlos Beltran

On October 19th, 2006 Adam Wainwright’s knee-buckling curve ball did more than strike out Carlos Beltran to end the NLCS and shatter the Mets hopes of going to the World Series.  Once Tim Welke called strike 3, opinions of Carlos in the minds of Met fans would be altered.  That one at-bat, that one pitch, may have set the groundwork for  Beltran becoming on of the most under appreciated superstars to ever don the Blue and Orange.  There has never been more evidence of this than there is today.

66 games into the 2010 Beltran-less season, it’s safe to say that a near unanimous vote of confidence is being voiced by Met fans everywhere.  The team is coming off their best road trip of the season (7-2) and have won 18 of their last 24 games.  The Mets are just 2 1/2 games back of the unworldly Atlanta Braves and if the season ended today, New York would be playoff bound (currently they lead the NL Wild Card by 1/2 game over the Giants).

With Angel Pagan (Beltran’s replacement) currently hitting .296 with 38 runs scored, 31 runs batted in, 14 stolen bases and a .357 on base percentage, some fans feel it may be time to move on from Carlos.  Not a day goes by in which a call doesn’t come into WFAN 660 from a Mets fan pleading for the team to trade Beltran.  And, if you listen to FAN host Joe Beningo, you will not get much resistance.  Pagan leads the team with a .375 average with runners in scoring position and has excelled (.347 avg) when asked to bat behind and ‘protect’ David Wright in the 6 hole.  More recently, Angel has adjusted nicely to his new found home as the Mets 2 hitter (.305), replacing injured Louis Castillo.  Simply put, he has been a blessing from above, but he is not Carlos Beltran.

In his tenure with the Mets Carlos has hit .281 with 127 HR and 466 RBI, highlighted by his MVP (4th in voting) caliber 2006 season when he hit .275 with 41 HR and 116 RBI.  Over his 5 year stay in New York he is 210 for 718 (.292) with runners in scoring position and during the 2006 NLCS he batted .296 with 3 HR and 4 RBI.  Beltran was the recipient of the Silver Slugger award in both ’06 and ’07 while being selected to the All-Star game from ’06-’09.  On top of his offensive accolades the Met slugger is arguably the best defensive center fielder in the league, having won gold gloves from 06-08.

Beltran, who is now perceived by some fans as a “soft” player or a “diva” of some sorts is anything but. In 2005 he played most of the season bothered by a thigh injury and after a gruesome head on collision with Mike Cameron on a David Ross fly ball in San Diego, Cliff Floyd had this to say of Beltran:

It would be very easy to say: ‘You know what? I’ll come back in spring training,’  That shows you what type of person he is. He’s not running away from anything. Everybody knows that he hasn’t had the greatest of years in his book.

It has been one of those years he wants to get through. He’s a strong-minded guy to say I’m coming back. If you ask my opinion, I think there’d be a lot of guys who would hide”

The decision was left to Beltran whether or not he wanted surgery and he opted not to miss anymore time but rather return to the field a week later to PLAY WITH A BROKEN FACE! Now I ask you is this, is that the sign of a “soft” player?

How can a player be categorized as “soft” after returning from injury to play for a team on the fast track to nowhere as he did in September of 2009?  With injuries to Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado he carried this team on his back and it wasn’t until his injury that the downward spiral of ’09 actually began and disaster settled in. The Mets were 34-33 the day he was placed on the DL and without him managed only a 28-43 record.  I understand the argument, that was then this is now and now we are good.  Yes, the 2010 Mets have shown they can be good without him, but we can be great with him.

Beltran has been the most consistent/clutch player on the Mets since 2006, when he had a career year leading the Mets to their first NL East Division title in over 18 years.  In September 2007, year one of the infamous collapses, Beltran batted .282 with 8 HR, 27 RBI, and 22 R for the month.  While other teammates saw their bats go cold he was anything but and did his best to fight for a division title.  In 2008, year two of the infamous collapses, he was once again far from the culprit, mashing his way to a .344 avg. in Sept/Oct with 6 HR, 19 RBI, and 22 R.  How quickly we forget. 

As things stand the Mets are very good, but this team needs to go from good to great.  Instead of looking to trade off the only player who has proven, aside from that one Wainwright curve,  that he can be counted on to produce when the team needs him, we should be ecstatic at the thought of his return.  He fills voids in the lineup as he can hit from any spot in the middle of the order and will provide much needed protection for David Wright (thus allowing Pagan to stay in the 2-hole).  Jason Bay could also use all the help he can get, as he has floundered in the clean-up spot (.266 avg, 1 HR, 128 AB) and given way to rookie Ike Davis.  While Ike has done wonders for the team, you can only ask/expect so much and the first basemen is only batting .252 while batting 4th.  In Beltran’s last full season he batted .290 with 22 HR and 90 RBI from clean-up spot and managed a .303 avg before going down last year.

It is mind boggling at times how one play, one pitch, and one at bat can last forever in the minds of fans and shield them from seeing a player for what he truly is.  How an injury can have him perceived as ‘soft’ and no longer worthy to wear their teams uniform. In this case some fans have turned a blind eye to one of the games greatest center fielders in the last 20 years.  The fact that the Mets are in contention and playing good baseball should not have us ready to trade Beltran, but rather embrace what his return can do for them.  While Carlos may not be a Met past 2011 we should enjoy him while he is here.  Not to be cliché but, you don’t know what you have til its gone.  In 2012 it will be to late.

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