Carlos Beltran: It's Time For the New York Mets to Worry

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIMarch 3, 2011

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 05: Carlos Beltran #15 of the New York Mets lets the ball get away from him after it hit off of the wall on a triple by Tyler Colvin of the Chicago Cubs in the 4th inning at Wrigley Field on September 5, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Mets defeated the Cubs 18-5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Mets officially announced that Carlos Beltran would make the full-time switch to right field for the 2011 season, paving the way for Angel Pagan to become the team's full-time center fielder.

The move had been widely speculated, given Beltran's surgically repaired knee and Pagan's 2010 performance.

Beltran underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in January 2010, reportedly without consulting team doctors. He missed the entire first half of the season, and the last five games with discomfort in the same knee.

Beltran finished the season with a .255 batting average, seven home runs, 27 RBI and three stolen bases. He played 64 games in center.

By comparison, Pagan was a revelation for the Mets last season. Pagan, 29, led the team with a .290 BA and 37 stolen bases. His defense was remarkable, posting a 15.1 UZR with just five errors in 139 starts.

Beltran reported to camp at less than full strength, despite having the surgery more than a year ago, and surrendered the center field position after just one week of a running program he developed with Mets trainers.

Manager Terry Collins has said he plans to get Beltran into his first Spring game as a DH against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, and will continue to have Beltran play DH for at least a week after that.

Then, maybe, Beltran will start playing the field.

Yes, Mets fans, it's officially time to start worrying about Carlos Beltran.

Entering the 2011 season, the Mets have a list of "ifs" a mile long. Each "if" is another thing that has to go the Mets' way in order for them to be competitive in a division that boasts the best starting rotation in all of baseball in Philadelphia.

As far as the offense is concerned, the biggest "if" is Carlos Beltran. "If' Beltran can stay healthy and produce, the Mets might have one of the best offenses in the National League.

But with each passing day Beltran isn't starting in games, playing in the field, or simply within view of a television camera, the "if" of Beltran gets bigger and bigger.

To his credit, Beltran came to Collins of his own accord to inform him that he wouldn't be able to play center field this season, and that is to be commended. But, to look at it another way, it's one thing for the Mets to move Beltran to right field after a few Spring training games.

But it's another for Beltran to conclude he's not capable of playing center field before he even tries to, without any input from Collins.

That raises serious concerns about where Beltran's knee is right now. 

Beltran was one of the best center fielders for the better part of a decade, but he has a lot going against him this season.

He has to combat both age and injury to learn a new position in one of the more difficult outfields in all of baseball. The right field corner at Citi Field is an adventure to say the least. The wall sticks out to form a very tricky corner in right-center, while a chain-link fence with Mets fans standing behind it form the wall.

The right field corner is a short poke for a left-handed hitter as well.

Jeff Franceour, who played right field for the Mets last season, called Citi Field "a damn joke" earlier this offseason.

Now, a lot can change over the next month, and Beltran's health may improve enough to instill some confidence in fans that he can play right field, but right now, Beltran does not look like a player who can make five to six starts per week.

In all honesty, we don't even know if he can swing a bat well until we see him on Sunday.

The Mets will have Scott Hairston as a potential replacement for Beltran on the days he's unable to play. Nick Evans and Willie Harris are also potential candidates and are currently competing for bench spots.

One of the Mets' top prospects, Fernando Martinez, who is slated to begin 2011 at Triple-A Buffalo, is currently batting .500, with one home run and two RBI during Spring Training. If Beltran goes down with an injury during the season, Martinez may be the first in line to replace him on a full-time basis.

For now though, Beltran is listed as the Mets' right fielder for 2011. He's a big part of the Mets offense for this season and can certainly help form one of the best defensive outfields in baseball if he's healthy.

But, like most things on the Mets right now, that's a big "if."