A top-of-the-head lineup of greatest Mets would look something like: Piazza-C, Hernandez 1B, Alfonzo 2B, Wright 3B, Reyes SS, Jones LF, Beltran CF, Strawberry RF. In other words, the opportunities to see a good percentage of the finest Mets to ever man a position together have been rare. Piazza-Hernandez-Strawberry were together from Strawberry’s promotion in 1983 until the end of the 1989 season. Piazza and Alfonzo played together from the day Piazza arrived via trade in 1998 until the day Alfonzo left after the 2002 season. Wright, Beltran and Reyes have been together since the start of the 2005 season, when the Mets signed Beltran to a contract that no one should regret, except possibly Beltran.
Not only have these three been together for about as long as Hernandez-Carter-Strawberry, they’ve been three elite players for longer. By 1987, Carter wasn’t a top hitter anymore. Alfonzo already began breaking down by 2001. But the current three have been great nearly from the start of their collaboration, and are great now.
Beltran had a down year in 2005, and Reyes wasn’t yet the dangerous Jose Reyes-just the potentially dangerous Jose Reyes- but by 2006, all three were elite players. And here again in 2011, all three are elite players- Reyes and Beltran All Stars, and Wright about to return. That Wright was less-than-elite while playing with a broken back doesn’t make him any less impressive, and there’s zero reason to expect he’ll fail to be among the top 3B in the game now that he’s returning to the lineup at full strength.
And no offense to Ruben Tejada, or Justin Turner, or Scott Hairston, but that Monday night lineup without all three players wasn’t nearly as compelling. It felt a lot like watching Mike Marshall, Barry Lyons and Darryl Boston.
The Mets finally get Reyes and Beltran back for Tuesday night’s clash against the Cardinals, roughly five years after the three greats took the Mets quite close to toppling Albert Pujols and celebrating a National League pennant on the Shea infield. If you want to give Carlos Beltran the blame for that final at-bat, I hope you will also credit him with the three home runs he hit in the series to get the Mets that close to victory. Redefining clutch to exclude those blasts is pretty silly.
But in what seems like the theme of the Reyes-Beltran-Wright Mets, the three stars won’t have one final moment to appear together before the home crowd, it appears. They’ll miss such a reunion by a single day. Reyes and Beltran are scheduled to play through Thursday afternoon at home, with Wright set to rejoin them on Friday night- in Florida. And the Mets play only road games from there until July 31- against the Marlins, the Reds, and the Nationals.
It will be an upset if Carlos Beltran isn’t traded by July 31, and not the kind of underdog victory Mets fans should cheer. I say this without any joy, but the right thing is to deal Beltran now for young talent. (Well, the right thing was to surround Beltran, Wright and Reyes with solid secondary players to take advantage of their peaks, but that ship has sailed.) The Mets are reading the market correctly and functioning in the proper fashion, no surprise given the front office now in place. Perhaps Beltran’s exit can provide a footnote equivalent to the day Mike Hampton left town, giving the Mets a draft pick that turned into David Wright. Perhaps not. But a shot at another Wright is a better bet than two months of Beltran and a long, still silence.
And yet, while the long-term view proves the front office correct- and should be their only focus- the fan who enjoys Carlos Beltran do practically everything on a baseball field felt cheated that three of a precious few remaining games saw Carlos Beltran sidelined with what sounds like an awful case of the flu. (I guess this is where Twitter would make the joke: Selfish Beltran didn’t buy a better immune system with his bloated contract.)
There’s no guarantee that Beltran will stick around until even the deadline- when the Mets get the right combination offered for him, they can and should strike. And I personally would want to build a few extra days into the deal, just for safety, to navigate Beltran’s no-trade clause and any last demands from Scott Boras.
In other words, maybe it is time for me to see the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Maybe it is time for all of us to see the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, or even that monstrosity in Florida. It is easy to understand the changing Met roster, and hope for a better tomorrow. But how many decades did we spend waiting for another trio like Carter-Hernandez-Strawberry? Who among us wouldn’t have gotten on a plane in those intervening years if seeing the three of them playing in orange and blue waited for us upon landing?
Maybe it is all moot. Maybe, as I wrote this piece, the Mets already traded Beltran. If not, however, enjoy the last vestiges of an era in team history. And when the deal finally comes, do everyone a favor, and remember not to blame the disappointment you are bound to feel on the departed star, but on the players that were missing throughout his tenure- the Lenny Dykstras, Ray Knights and Roger McDowells that, this time around, never showed up.