By Taryn “The Coop” Cooper
I’ve had a contentious relationship with Carlos Beltran. Not that he would know it personally, but I’ve swung the pendulum in the duration of his tenure with the team on my feelings towards him. Perhaps there is no other player on the Mets quite as divisive with the fans as Beltran is. You either love him or you hate him.
I now wonder why I ever hated him to begin with. Maybe hate is a strong word…perhaps I disliked him and didn’t think he was a superstar. I agree that the Mets and more specifically Omar Minaya had to overpay for him to come to the Mets since they finished so poorly in the years leading up to Beltran’s proclamation of the “New Mets.”
Then came the “Smash” heard ‘round the world. See, Beltran failed to fully launch in 2005, to the dismay of a fan base that desperately wanted to root for him. Making matters worse was the hit he took with Mike Cameron in right center field at Petco Park in 2005. That smack either – for lack of a better term – made him or broke him amongst Mets fans. Either “He plays hurt and came back with a smashed face!” or “He should have just gone on the DL and came back in 2006, he wasn’t helping the team any more by playing hurt.”
There it goes. He either “plays hurt” and is a “gamer” or “he’s soft” and “he’s doesn’t play enough.” I might have said in the past that he’s “stoic” and “doesn’t show emotion,” that is…until I saw him speaking at a Mets event back in December. I haven’t seen or heard a player with as much passion and drive as Beltran. With someone like David Wright, he’s talented but you can tell a lot of his attitude is manufactured. Beltran is as a real as real gets, and “real” as in “passionate.” The players seem to look up to him too.
I came around on Beltran eventually, to the surprise of many in the Mets blogosphere. Save a few Mets “fans” who regularly beat the “Down on Beltran” drum daily on Twitter, I came to realize something. Not so much about his playing hurt thing and wanting to help the team. The fact that he could play and play well, not to mention do it quietly. I even went on to say that the Mets missed Beltran more than Jose Reyes, which raised Mets fans up in arms. How dare I say that about the so-called “catalyst” of the team when Beltran had barely played a game in two seasons?
Here’s the thing: I saw something in Beltran at the end of 2008. I saw a guy who never said “die.” I saw someone with a score to settle. In 2009, I still wonder what might have been, as we saw him put up MVP numbers before going on that long stretch that subsequently brought the team down with him in injuries.
Now, I have to ask myself…is it time for him to step down?
I know Beltran is still young, as far as baseball players go. But at 33 years old, he’s got an arthritic knee. I know how painful that can be. After all, my grandmother had one too – at 67 years old! Of course, Grandma didn’t play baseball for a living and made a career out of her knees. This condition won’t get any better. Beltran opted to have arthroscopic surgery late in the offseason leading into 2010, and now wears a knee brace that has limited his range of motion to the degree that he had to relinquish his native position as centerfielder to move to right field for Angel Pagan. Of course, some people looked at it as a “moment of weakness” when he had to remove himself from CF consideration. I saw it was one of Beltran’s finest moments.
Then, I look at Beltran’s stats late in 2010, after he did return from his injury. It made me wistful for days of yore, when he was completely healthy. September and October in 2010 showed us a glimpse of the old Beltran, and just what he is capable of: .325/.365/.603. He’s not stealing bases (hello! Arthritic knee condition!), but he can still hit and that’s the Beltran we know to be capable.
So what’s next after 2011? I already know that the Mets won’t bring him back. Why would they? Alderson has done well to remove himself from some of the negativity surrounding previous years of overspending and underachieving by outright releasing Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. While Beltran’s contract has left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths, it’s not to say it wasn’t the right deal at the right time back in 2005. Given Beltran’s injury history, though, and just how good he actually in RF and out of the gate in 2011, I can’t help but wonder…
What is Beltran’s future going to hold?
I have to question outside of having a monster year and starting in at least 160 games (which we know is highly unlikely), what team is really going to take a gander on him, except maybe in a DH role? Beltran’s agent Scott Boras has said that Beltran is not interested in being a DH, so that may subsequently eliminate any AL teams from pursuing him. It also makes me wonder that if Boras is putting out that element (it wouldn’t the first time Boras has said stuff that didn’t exactly gel with what his client was thinking or planning), if it partially wasn’t true. And with Beltran’s limited motion in his natural position, and in the outfield where one needs full use of their legs, it makes me question if he isn’t shooting himself in the foot regarding his future. If he’s serious about continuing to play baseball, wouldn’t it be smart to work on his hitting?
Unless it’s a cover and he doesn’t want fanfare, just like Beltran didn’t want in his career. Sadly, I wonder if Beltran will ever win a championship. He may be a Moises Alou type, with the tagline “When Healthy” could have been a sure lock for the Hall of Fame. I look at Beltran and wonder what might have been. But I have to think that Beltran may be looking at the next chapter in his life, career-wise, and wondering the same thing too.
Should he retire in 2012? If he is still showing signs of breaking down, range of motion and can’t do the things he used to do well, he may need to. And if he does, don’t expect a big showy send off. He’ll quietly go back to his home turf, and tend to his schools and do good in his community.
Sadly, I think he probably thinks of his time with the Mets not with fondness but with ambivalence. We’ll miss him when he’s gone, that’s for sure. But we’ll miss the Beltran he could have been, and that’s what the sadness I have with the idea of him walking away from the sport.