With the trade deadline drawing near and the Mets headed on a road trip that will last until August, Carlos Beltran’s fly out in the ninth inning of this afternoon’s game could turn out to be his last home at bat with the team. Realizing this possibility, what was left of the Citi Field crowd gave Beltran a nice round of applause, but one wonders if Mets fans truly appreciate how good the outfielder has been during his seven years in Flushing?
Although hampered at times by injury, Beltran has enjoyed a mostly productive tenure with the Mets. Based on WAR, he already ranks among the top position players in franchise history, despite having nearly 1,000 fewer plate appearances than many of the other leaders. With playing time factored into the equation, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that Carlos Beltran is the best Mets’ position player of all time.
Top-10 Mets’ Position Players, Ranked by Average WAR*
*AvgWAR = (bWAR + fWAR)/2
Source: baseball-reference.com (bWAR) and fangraphs.com (fWAR)
Unfortunately for Beltran, two extenuating circumstances have seemed overshadow his overall contribution to the Mets. The first is the unshakeable image of a motionless Beltran taking a called third strike to end the 2006 NLCS (ironically, during the same year, Beltran had the third best single season in Mets’ history, according to both WAR calculations). With the Mets on the precipice of the World Series, Beltran’s punch out became a symbolic turning point in the fortunes of the franchise, which have since included not only a collapse on the field , but in the financial realm as well.
Another cloud hanging over Beltran is his $119 million contract, which, when signed in 2005, was the largest sum the Mets had ever handed out. Considering the team’s spotty free agent history, it’s easy to see why Mets’ fans might have initially viewed Beltran with suspicion, but that stigma should have worn off by now. According to fangraphs.com, the outfielder has already provided value ($129.2 million) in excess of his original contract, making Beltran not only of the team’s most productive players, but also one of its best free agent signings.
*2011 salary pro-rated over 98 games.
Source: fangraphs.com (value) and Cot’s Baseball Contracts (salary)
As the rest of baseball looks forward to where Beltran will finish the 2011 season, the time has come for the Mets to take a step back. In many ways, Beltran’s departure would represent the official end of the Omar Minaya era, a rare period in franchise history when the Mets tried to build a winner via free agency. Although that plan never came to fruition, Beltran certainly held up his end of the bargain. Hopefully, his place in Mets’ history will reflect that.