The Return Of Carlos Beltran

With the return of Carlos Beltran slated for the Mets’ upcoming game on Thursday, the New York lineup will have a very different look come the weekend. Jerry Manuel’s plan  is for the former All-Star to play his natural position of centerfield and move hot-hitting Angel Pagan to left. The odd man out is the streaky Jeff Francouer, who has mired in a slump since his hot start to begin the season. Beltran’s return calls into question both his fit into the starting lineup as well as in the clubhouse.

A five time All-Star, four with the Mets, Carlos Beltran has been one of the main cogs during his tenure in New York. Aside from his first season in the orange and blue, Beltran has had over 100 RBIs in every healthy season (three) and played a stellar center field in both Shea Stadium and Citi Field. Although his prime age for speed has passed him by, Carlos still has garnered 94 stolen bases in 4 1/2 seasons with the Mets and he still holds the Major League record for highest stolen base percentage at 88% (Min. of 250 attempts). His biggest asset remains his raw power, as he holds the Mets’ single season record of 41 along with Todd Hundley. In a lineup where homeruns is a premium, Beltran’s presence could be vital during the stretch run toward the playoffs.

With Angel Pagan and Jeff Francoeur patrolling center and left, respectively, the Mets have risen to 2nd place in a hotly contest NL East, where four teams have 40 wins (with the Nats at 39). The addition of Beltran into that mix should have management and fans alike jumping for joy. Yet for all of Carlos’ skills, all five tools in fact, he remains a difficult personality to throw into a clubhouse.

A love-hate relationship has always been present between Carlos Beltran and the entire Mets’ organization, from the management to its fans. Since his first season, where he drastically underachieved, the centerfielder had to bear the cross of both his contract and the Mets’ failures under his watch. Beltran’s swinging strikeout of Adam Wainwright’s wicked curveball in the 2006 NLCS will forever be linked to his legacy in New York.

On top of that issue, Carlos has also hid behind his nationality when dealing with the hounding New York press. His unwillingness to open up with media like other New York stars, such as David Wright and Derek Jeter, has not helped his reputation with the public or enabled him to shed his distant image. His demeanor and almost lackadaisical manner doesn’t fit with the hustle and bustle of New York City or mesh with the wants of the press. That being said Beltran will not come in and change the culture of the clubhouse for the worse, as his veteran presence may actually compliment the youth movement the Mets seem to be undergoing.

Aside from internal chemistry issues, the Mets will have a hard time adjusting on the field. Lightning rod centerfielder Angel Pagan is hitting .315 with 19 stolen bases while playing a solid centerfield, surely he cannot be benched? Although this issue was quelled by Manuel, and probably Omar Minaya, when Jeff Francouer was nominated to be the left out player, he is one slump away from being pulled. Although Jeff has a better arm and ranks ahead of Pagan defensively, Frenchy is not in the same class as a hitter, at least this year, and his missing power will surely be replaced by Beltran.

The real problem with Francouer’s demotion will be his handling of it, on and off the field. A rhythm hitter, Jeff may not be able to find any consistency with the bat and may become a liability off the bench and in spot appearances. His clubhouse leadership will also need to continue to stay strong, as he brings a stable, veteran presence both with the young players and with the New York media. If the right fielder sours, especially if Beltran or Pagan start to slump, division may ensue within the Met clubhouse and any hope of a successful season will go down with it.

The presence of Carlos Beltran will swing the Met season one way or the other. If the center fielder regains his All-Star form, New York may be World Series’ dark horses, but if he falters the Mets may not recover. As in previous years, the New York Mets will once again lean on Carlos Beltran to save their season, hopefully his knees hold up.