By Rich Coutinho
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Carlos Beltran came to New York after a legendary 2004 postseason. He signed a lucrative 7-year, $119 million contract and was fully expected to be part of a championship team that included the likes of Jose Reyes, Pedro Martinez and David Wright.
In the second year of that deal, Beltran landed in the sport’s final four as the Mets played the Cardinals to Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. What most people remember is the called third strike from Adam Wainwright that ended the Mets’ season, but very few remember that Beltran hit two homers in that series — including the clincher in Game 1 off Jeff Weaver.
Now, in the final year of that pact, most people think the Mets might peddle him before the July 31 trading deadline. And I say — hold on.
Not so fast.
Beltran might be on his way to a great season. He has been the team’s best run producer through the first half, showing us that he is now both a durable and productive player. Clearly Jose Reyes is the sizzle in the Mets’ lineup, but Beltran might be the exclamation point. His resurgence has pointed the Mets in the right direction: north in the standings.
In typical Beltran fashion, his production has been understated in the media. Let’s not forget, this is a man who amassed three 100+ RBI seasons from 2006-2008 in a Mets uniform. He might be well on his way towards doing it again in 2011.
The Mets have flourished during Beltran’s renaissance. They are an impressive 35-26 since their 5-13 start, and their star right fielder has been a big reason why. With little protection in the lineup due to injuries and a sub-par Jason Bay, Beltran is among the league leaders in doubles and has carried this team on his back (along with Reyes) for long stretches.
Before you dismiss the team’s current hot streak, keep in mind: that’s a .573 winning percentage over 61 games, for the most part without David Wright. But even if the Mets just continue at this pace (61 games is not exactly a hot stretch, it’s 37 percent of the schedule), that translates to 86 wins. That, my friends, puts the Mets in the wild card conversation.
It stands to reason that the team will be better with a healthy Wright. And if Johan Santana gives them anything, it could be an interesting second half of the season — which brings us back to Beltran. Trading him is not an option. Quite frankly, he is producing as well as any RBI bat in the league and has become an important leader in the clubhouse.
That’s right, I said leader. He commands respect in that room and when he has something to say, players listen. Terry Collins has said on numerous occasions that Beltran’s leadership is so obvious to him, he wonders why so many people haven’t noticed outside the Mets’ fraternity.
I’ll tell you why: people have pre-conceived notions about what kind of player and person Beltran is. They don’t even take the time to get to know him. I have, and I will tell you: he is a passionate, driven athlete that wants to win in the worst way. I will also tell you that the success of players in that room like Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Angel Pagan — just to name a few — are a direct by-product Beltran’s mentoring. He moved to right field without hesitation. Why? Because he knew it was best for the team. He heard all the snarky remarks in spring training that he was a shell of his former self — and has proven all of those critics wrong.
Chances are Beltran won’t be here next year (although I’m not totally sure about that) and I can assure you that he will be missed in a profound way. The two biggest reasons the Mets are in the playoff hunt are Reyes and starting pitching. But a very close third is the turn-back-the-clock job Beltran has done. And with it, he has given himself one last chance in New York to help the Mets earn a playoff spot.
At the very least, Beltran has given Mets fans a summer with a chance. Given where this team was six short months ago, that is saying a lot.
Should the Mets move Beltran before the deadline? Let Coutinho know in the comments below…