NEW YORK -- In playing the addition-by-subtraction game with Francisco Rodriguez, Sandy Alderson looked about as smart as his Oakland protégé, Billy Beane, will surely look in the upcoming "Moneyball" movie starring Brad Pitt.
Alderson acknowledged to fellow executives that the K-Rod trade with Milwaukee amounted to a "giveaway," and yet those same executives viewed the move as the work of an old, steady hand. The general manager of the New York Mets had to find a way, any way, to stop Rodriguez from banking $17.5 million on his watch in 2012, and nobody in Alderson's office cared that the Brewers cut a deal with Scott Boras to make that vesting option go poof in the night.
The Mets aren't sweating the players to be named in the trade, either, two minor leaguers off a list who are unlikely to produce any significant big league return. Alderson is just happy K-Rod is gone, that his Madoff-mired bosses are relieved and that the effort to re-sign Jose Reyes won't be compromised by a closer's absurd wage.
But the Mets can get something for Carlos Beltran beyond simple payroll flexibility, a possibility enhanced by the slugger's 420-foot homer to dead center in Friday night's sobering 7-2 loss to the Phillies.
Chances are, the Mets can get a kid who can play. Really play.
"There are a lot of questions with Beltran," said one competing executive in contact with the Mets. "Between his salary, how much the Mets will pay down his contract, what their asking price will be and what team doctors will say about his knee, it's hard to say what Beltran's market value will be.
"The Mets got nothing for K-Rod, but they'll get something for Beltran. Can they get a top-three prospect from an organization with a very good minor league system? I don't think so. But can they get a legitimate prospect for Beltran? Yes."
In fact, Alderson believes his right fielder should bring back a straight-A student, a prospect at least worthy of carrying Bryce Harper's jock. The GM can't guess wrong on this one.
Alderson has to slash tens of millions in salary and come up with more than $100 million for Reyes between the end of this season and next spring, meaning he needs an executive of the millennium-like run to keep the Mets from falling apart.
The Mets owe Beltran about $8 million on his $18.5 million wage and might have to cover some of that tab when sending him to San Francisco or another hopeful port. Beltran is a free agent-to-be, a rental, and even offensively challenged contenders are hesitant to surrender a potential impact player for one of those.
But this much is clear: Alderson can't play out the season with Beltran, not when the right fielder has a clause in his contract forbidding the Mets from offering him arbitration and securing a draft pick or two as compensation if he signs with another team.
Alderson has to deal Beltran by the trade deadline at the end of the month, deal him for a young player who will help the Mets whenever they're ready to make a credible postseason push.
The 2011 Mets? The 47-46 Mets, after Saturday's surprising win? No, they're not for real. They're 11 games behind the Phillies in the division and 7 1/2 games behind the Braves in the wild card. Friday night offered another round of evidence why they need to sell, sell, sell.
Right after their manager, Terry Collins, spoke of the coming weeks as a "playoff run for us" and addressed the need to "get ourselves back in the hunt," the Mets offered no resistance against their blood rivals. The Phillies had the rookie Vance Worley on the mound, not Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, and the rookie Vance Worley was more than enough.
The Citi Field fans had to settle for a pyrotechnics show in the postgame and for Beltran's consolation blast off Michael Stutes in the eighth. The ball landed near the giant apple in center and announced to all suitors that the slugger can still drive a ball out of a long-ball graveyard like this one.
Not that Beltran is publicly campaigning for a move. Before the game, he stood in a clubhouse hallway with his back literally against the wall and announced he wanted to be a Met for life.
It should be noted Beltran didn't quite say it with Reyes' conviction or enthusiasm.
"I really made it clear to the organization that I want to finish my career here," he said. "But at the same time, you understand organizations have plans sometimes that are not the plans you think of. So I'm prepared for everything."
Beltran was asked why he wanted to remain a Met for the long term. "Because I feel like all the years that I play here," he said, "every single year we have good teams, and the organization is willing to do everything possible to put a good team together to win a championship. Unfortunately, as players, we didn't do it, we didn't come through as a team."
As a $119 million franchise player, the Mets' first nine-figure acquisition, Beltran didn't deliver on a ticker-tape parade. But he did produce three consecutive seasons of more than 100 RBIs, and he did return from a serious knee injury to make this year's All-Star Game. (If Beltran's surgery is the only recent medical procedure that worked out for the Mets, it's also the only one they didn't approve of.)
On Friday evening, before his team lost its first game of the second half, Beltran said he isn't sure whether he has two weeks or many years left as a New York Met. This shouldn't be in doubt. Alderson needs to make sure he has a new right fielder by July 31.
More than that, the GM needs to trade Beltran for the right prospect, a kid who will help a legitimate Mets contender to be named later.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."