Commentary

Can Carlos Beltran still play CF?

Despite aging star's steep decline, Mets plan to give him chance to show he's improved

Updated: January 20, 2011, 8:25 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

Carlos Beltran & Angel PaganKirby Lee/US PresswirePagan and Beltran haven't had an easy coexistence in the Mets' outfield.

Between now and Feb. 14, the day pitchers and catchers report to Port. St. Lucie, Fla., ESPNNewYork.com will tackle five big questions facing the Mets as they head into the 2011 season.

Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan will comprise the starting outfield for the New York Mets in 2011.

The spring training question is this: Will Beltran man center field and Pagan man right field? Or vice versa?

Manager Terry Collins plans to directly address the topic again with Beltran in Port St. Lucie shortly after Beltran reports next month.

Collins indicated Wednesday at Citi Field that the logical plan is to give Beltran a week or two of Grapefruit League games solely in center field, then evaluate his mobility. If Beltran demonstrates the requisite range, he will remain a center fielder. If not, there will be another chat.

"I think that's how we're going to do it," Collins said. "When I meet with Carlos, he's going to have a lot of input in this. Certainly he's of the caliber of player; he deserves the respect. If he wants to try to go show us that he can go play center field, he's going to get that [opportunity]."

Collins added that once it is determined in March where Beltran will be assigned, he will not be jerked back and forth between center field and right field.

"Once the decision is made, that's the way we're going to go," Collins said. "I just don't think it's fair to those kind of players to keep saying, 'OK, jeez, Angel is out for three days, we're going to move you here. ... OK, gosh, now we're going to move you back over there. ... Gosh, we're going to go play in the Grand Canyon and have to move you to right field.' That's just unfair to those guys, especially to him."

Beltran, 33, wants to remain in center field, but the issue is whether his arthritic right knee will allow that to happen.

After January 2010 surgery in Vail, Colo., to clean out the knee, Beltran missed the first half of the season. Wearing a bulky brace, Beltran showed decreased mobility in center field once he returned after the All-Star break -- certainly less range than Pagan possesses. And Beltran was shut down with a week to go in the season because the knee discomfort again became too intense.

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Beltran has indicated that the knee is OK at this point after a winter to rest. But he still is expected to need to wear the cumbersome brace. And the underlying knee condition has not been surgically remedied, so the wear and tear of everyday playing could cause the discomfort to return -- even if Beltran demonstrates range more like his old self.

Beltran has made 1,555 of his 1,560 career major league outfield starts in center field. The five non-center-field starts came 11 years ago when he was with the Kansas City Royals -- three in right field and two in left field.

Using the plus-minus rating developed by Baseball Info Solutions, among the 35 players who played the most innings in center field last season, Beltran ranked 27th (minus-6) and Pagan ranked 12th (plus-8). Beltran in 2007 was plus-24 and in 2008 was plus-25 -- both of which ranked second, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. The rating identifies how many bases an outfielder saved compared with the average fielder on identical shots.

Regardless, Beltran likely is in his final season as a Met. He is due to make $18.5 million in 2011, the final season of a seven-year, $119 million deal. Beltran, who has a no-trade clause, would be a logical trade-deadline candidate if he performs in the first half and the Mets are not in contention.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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