It’s not easy admitting you’re no longer the person you used to be. This is something that all of us, no matter our profession, struggle with; we all get old and our skills deteriorate, and it takes a large amount self awareness and humility to gracefully deal with this fact. Many people go kicking and screaming into their forties, and pride can keep us from acknowledging our declining skills. I’m still young! Of course I can train for a marathon! Reality, though, can sometimes beg to differ.
While everyone sees their body, memory, and skills decline over time, very few of us make our living based on our physical ability. Very few of us have to acknowledge to a national audience that we’re getting older and declining, and that a younger person is better at our job than we are. This fact may be obvious to outside viewers, but on a personal level, that’s a difficult admission to make.
However, this morning Carlos Beltran did just that: he told manager Terry Collins he’s ready to switch to playing right field, allowing Angel Pagan to roam center field in his stead. At this point in his career, Beltran moving to right field is the best move for the Mets and, yes, Beltran too.
Not only is Beltran getting old – he’s turning 34 in less than a month – but he’s suffered through knee issues since 2009. He had surgery to repair his knee in January of 2010, and while he recovered enough to play in 64 games this past season, he was far from himself. His bat was just barely above average (.332 wOBA, 106 wRC+) and his defense in center field has declined as a result of his knee issues. While before he was a +5 to +10 defender in center, over limited action the last two seasons he’s looked more like a -5 to -10 defender. Even at his worst he was still a better than average center fielder (0.9 WAR in 64 games is nothing to shake a fist at), but he was a far cry from his 7.1 WAR self from 2008.
By moving to right field, Beltran is providing himself with the best possible situation to improve his value before hitting free agency after this season. His defensive performance should improve in a corner; players typically see a +10 UZR improvement moving out of center field, which means Beltran could be an average to above-average right fielder. His knee will have less stress put on it, and offensively…well, that all depends on his knee’s health and how his bat rebounds. For him to be a 3-4 WAR player in right field, though, all he has to do is post a .340-.350 wOBA while playing average defense. And if Beltran’s bat rebounds back up into the .370 wOBA range, then we’re talking a 4-5 WAR season and a place as one of the top 10 right fielders in the game.
With Beltran in right field, the Mets can now field their most optimal defensive outfield. Angel Pagan will get full control of center field, the best position for him and the place where he helps the Mets most. Pagan is a speedy, defensive whiz; over the course of around 1,300 innings in center over the last two seasons, Pagan has posted impressive defensive scores in all of the major defensive metrics (around an 8 UZR/150, 10 TZL, and 7 DRS). He also profiles better offensively as a centerfielder, as most center fielders have weak bats and he’s projected to post a .340 wOBA this upcoming season.
We’ve come to expect so much from Carlos Beltran, but sadly it seems as though his best years are behind him. Despite this, though, he can still be a valuable player to the Mets this season, and the combination of him and Pagan patrolling the deep confines of Citi Field should be a helpful duo for Mets pitchers (I’m sure flyballer Chris Young will be happy). And who knows, maybe his knee will get better and he’ll reignites his career. It’s still Spring Training, so I can’t help but hope.