Carlos Beltran took part in a simulated game on a back field in Port St Lucie, Florida on Thursday. He hit from both sides of the plate, ran the bases without hesitation and fielded his position with what he later described as 100 percent intensity.
He says he is optimistic about being ready for Opening Day just one week from now, and manager Terry Collins told MLB.com that he can picture Beltran manning right field when they face the Marlins on April 1.
Anthony DiComo reported that the Mets will not let Beltran play in a Grapefruit League contest unless they are sure he is ready to go in seven days' time, and he said they could still consider a retroactive trip to the DL, which would give him three more days to prepare for the current campaign.
Still, fans shouldn't be too concerned if he needs that little extra time to get ready.
Nobody expects Beltran to stay 100 percent healthy for the entire year, and I think it's more likely than not that Beltran will hit the DL at least once this season.
I'd rather give him the extra time to prepare now than rush him into the lineup. I don't want to see him forcing the issue in the first series of the year, only to do himself more harm than good. The only thing worse than that would be to see him playing at 80 percent to protect himself.
He needs more at-bats and more live pitching. He needs more time to learn the subtle demands of right field. And most importantly, he needs more time to prove to management and to himself that he can still contribute at a high level.
Regardless of whether or not Beltran starts the season in the outfield, expectations have to be muted. He's acknowledged that he's not going to get any faster, and it's ridiculous to think that he'll approach anything like his 2007 or 2008 form, let alone his MVP-caliber 2006 season.
What's Beltran's upside this year? Maybe .290 with 16 homers, 65 RBIs and double-digit steals? Maybe 120 games or 450 at-bats?
That has to be considered his ceiling, but if he's only out for a short period of time, then there's certainly others who can step in. Scott Hairston has some pop and he could quite easily platoon with the Mets' other offseason acquisition, Willie Harris, someone most people consider to be much more suited as a bench player or late-game replacement.
Harris is tied for the club lead with three homers this spring, while Hairston is batting .383 with two longballs, five doubles and a triple. I don't see either guy holding down the full-time job, but you don't lose too much of what Beltran would bring with a combination of the two.
Hairston can hold his own at the dish and Harris has things covered in the field and on the basepaths.
Less likely but arguably more useful would have been to go with a younger guy. The club is going to have to give serious consideration to 2012 sooner or later, and while I agree that both Fernando Martinez and Lucas Duda need more seasoning in Buffalo, an extra stint with the big club wouldn't hurt their progress too much.
Martinez ripped up spring training and showed good plate discipline before he was sent to minor league camp. Lucas Duda, with versatility across the outfield, has seen more at-bats than any other outfield prospect this year.
I have no problem that neither one will make the opening day roster, but the option is certainly there, if not right now, then early on in the season.
Pagan has had back problems this week and Bay obviously missed a big chunk of time at the end of last season after that nasty collision with the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium. There will be opportunities for Martinez and Duda in the outfield at some point this year, even if Beltran gets the all-clear for April 1.
I hope Beltran will have a clean bill of health this season, but I'm not that naive to think it's even close to a given. Considering that the outfielder turns 34 next month and has already seen the best years of his career come and go, his absence against Florida next week isn't that much of a game-changer.
I wish him all the best and I know what he brings to the lineup, but his inclusion, or lack thereof, is nowhere near as big as it once was.