Now that Met fans can speak of him retrospectively, wisdom should inform one and all of them that Carlos Beltran was, when healthy, one of the better lights among Met clubs that so often disillusioned from high expectations. And, yes, it’s time to quit blaming him for the onset of one of the Mets’ more heartbreak-shepherding eras.
File this under your Mets Keeping It Real tab: If he’d swung and missed on Adam Wainwright’s breaker in 2006, the screaming would have been variations on the theme of what the hell were you swinging at?!? When you’re fated to be the final out of a lost pennant, you can’t win for losing. Especially after your tenure from there is pockmarked by injuries that often made people forget how productive you were (and are) when healthy.
Ryan Howard was the pennant-losing strikeout for last year’s Philadelphia Phillies. It must shock people long enough accustomed to Philadelphia fans’ legendary indignation to realise that nobody in that city has yet indicated a hunger to see Howard lying prostrate on the nearest guillotine bed. How on earth does Howard escape that for a legacy when Beltran couldn’t?
Credit the Mets with this much: If they had to move Beltran, and at this writing it’s an open question as to whether it means pulling the plug on 2011 and preparing for 2012 and beyond, at least they moved him out of the National League East. The Phillies and the Atlanta Braves were interested enough in renting his bat for the stretch drive, but general manager Sandy Alderson would have had Met fans interested in beheading him if he’d even thought about moving Beltran to an immediate rival.
Met fans, to their credit, don’t believe their heroes have a postseason birthright. They prefer to leave that kind of insouciant self-entitlement to their counterparts in the next borough. (No, silly, not Brooklyn.) This doesn’t mean the Mets have made it easy for them to sustain their realism. The Mets can do many things but making life simple for their fans has never really been one of them.
Alderson may have proven a shrewder horse trader than his St. Louis counterpart with the Beltran deal. The San Francisco Giants were desperate enough for Beltran’s resurrected bat that they parted with their widely-regarded-to-be-top pitching prospect, Zach Wheeler. The St. Louis Cardinals were desperate enough to rid themselves of the talented but divisive Colby Rasmus. (Met fans who like to observe the other guys’ talents may be tempted to think of Rasmus as the Cardinals’ answer to Gregg Jefferies—likewise a hyped superprospect who turned out to be a slightly spoiled brat who, allegedly, was immune to any teaching that didn’t emanate from his father.) How desperate? The Toronto Blue Jays may yet prove to be the fleecers of the season, assuming Rasmus puts things together in earnest for them, since they convinced the Cardinals to take a proven but inconsistent veteran arm (Edwin Jackson) and a few no-names in exchange.
The Cardinals may be in win-now workings, considering the contract statuses of both manager Tony La Russa and franchise Albert Pujols. (They both become free agents at season’s end.) But if they’ve purged Rasmus before they could find the right way to reach, teach, and bleach him, and they end up losing both their best manager since Whitey Herzog and their best all-around player since Stan Musial, without substance coming in in their stead, it’s going to be a long enough darkness for a franchise well accustomed to contention and conquest.
God only knew Beltran had been on the Giants’ wish list at least since the All-Star break. Why, hadn’t Giants closer Brian (The Beard) Wilson told anyone lending him an ear that he, for one, would love to have Beltran in the middle of the Giants’ lineup, to the point where people feared the Beard might inadvertently invite tampering charges against his bosses? With pitching to burn but hitting in need of reinforcement posthaste, especially in the wake of Buster Posey’s breakage for the season, Beltran is the Giants’ great hope for defending their World Series rings successfully.
Beltran proved solid and worth his weight and his salary when he could and did stay healthy. He turned out to be one of the Mets’ quiet leaders when he could and did play. (Have they forgiven him in Houston yet for casting a longing eye on a longing collection of Mets after the Astros, foolishly, refused him a no-trade clause?) When he more or less insisted that if the Mets had to move him it would have to be to another contender—he’s too diplomatic in his way to suggest this year’s surprising Mets may yet be on the brink of falling away from the races in earnest—the Mets more or less replied that he’d bloody well earned that consideration.
So Beltran goes to the defending world champions. The Mets get a live pitching prospect who’s probably being penciled in for major responsibilities come 2012 or 2013. And they look smarter than they’ve looked in several years. But they still have a season to finish. They could still surprise a lot of people. (Hell, no sooner had Beltran said his pre-game clubhouse farewells than the Mets went out and laid an 8-2 lashing on the Cincinnati Reds. Luke Duda, a left fielder pressed into service as Beltran’s right field successor, hit one out to help key the win. Today, the Mets finished the sweep with a 10-9 squeaker in which Duda’s three-run double proved major insurance.) Re-signing Jose Reyes, the possibilities of which were amplified tenfold when K-Rod was cashiered to Milwaukee and, now, Beltran was moved on up and out to San Francisco, may not necessarily be one of them. That kind of lack of surprise would simply make Met fans even more optimistic.
Even if it’s the most cautious optimism in the Show.