Beltran offered Mets more than top-flight bat
Club must overcome loss of respected voice in clubhouse
So long as the Mets continue to pile up victories at an inordinate pace, the departure of Carlos Beltran will have limited impact on the players who go on without him. His counsel will not be missed if the batting order, from top to bottom, produces as it did during a four-game sweep at Cincinnati, if it continues to compensate for those days in April when bases loaded, none out was reason for dread.
One of these days, though, one or two of the now-sizzling bats will endure an 0-for, or the Mets will simply lose three of four. An unwanted dose of reality will be administered by some opponent, and the professionalism of Beltran may become more conspicuously absent. And then what? Who does for Angel Pagan, Justin Turner, Lucas Duda and the others what Beltran did?
Talent is the most critical ingredient in the composition of any team. Intangibles rank second, not a too distant second, as the 2011 Mets have demonstrated to this point, because they often determine whether talent is expressed. Suffice it to say the brain and the ability to perform are inexorably linked.
With Beltran gone -- and this is not, in any way, a condemnation of the trade that moved him west -- a power void exists in the Mets' batting order. David Wright, who missed two months of the season and has eight home runs, seven fewer than Beltran had hit before the deal, leads the Mets in homers.
A good portion of that void will be addressed by Wright, Ike Davis -- if and when he returns -- Jason Bay, Daniel Murphy and Duda.
The level of defense Beltran provided in right field will not be readily replaced so long as someone other than Pagan plays right. The Mets knew that when they decided to move Beltran, and that void now falls in the category of "play the hand that is dealt."
Replenishing whatever intangibles Beltran took with him will be addressed, too. Replacement parts are in stock in the clubhouse. And how the scenario develops will be important and intriguing.
Wright will be a factor in the equation; he already has been. When Johan Santana returns to the clubhouse, his stately persona will be recognized and copied -- if the Mets are lucky. A return to normalcy by Bay will make him a factor as well. He remains a pro's pro, regardless of his batting average. And now that it seems likely the Mets status of Jose Reyes will survive this weekend, his role in the clubhouse must be measured, too.
Reyes has demonstrated a greater maturity this season, and his dazzling on-field performance has amplified his professionalism. The Mets retained him because of his remarkably positive influence on their offense, his lower-case wizardry at shortstop -- there is only one Wizard -- and because he's a big boy now.
Willie Randolph believed Reyes needed the guidance of sage Jose Valentin. And later, the Mets imported Luis Castillo and paid him too much because they weren't convinced Reyes' baseball mind was comparable to his physical skills.
That period is over. Reyes' concentration on the field and his sense of what is needed are quite big now. Part of his responsibility this season was to direct Ruben Tejada, as Valentin had directed him. Gradually, Reyes will assume part of what Beltran did for others. And he can teach the new guys how to dance, too.
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Beltran was never widely recognized for what he did off the field. But from his first day in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in 2005, teammates were struck by Beltran's willingness to share his experience and sense of the game. Unsolicited testaments to his guidance were common then, and Beltran's counseling continued throughout his Mets tenure, though his absence from the lineup and the clubhouse limited his influence at times.
There were those -- Lastings Milledge and Carlos Gomez come to mind -- who were certain they knew enough of about life in the big leagues without input from Beltran or anyone else. You will notice they now are identified as well-traveled former Mets.
Wright put Milledge in his place once or twice, Paul Lo Duca -- speaking of intangibles -- tried to guide Gomez a few times and gave up. Tom Glavine, Moises Alou, Aaron Sele, Marlon Anderson, Alex Cora, Cliff Floyd, Mike Cameron, Jeff Francoeur, Valentin and, without much subtlety, Billy Wagner were also important to the clubhouse dynamic that developed during the tenures of Randolph and Jerry Manuel.
Carlos Delgado could have been and preferred not to be.
The days that preceded the Tom Seaver trade in 1977 were, for that time, tumultuous. The word distractions is often thrown around clubhouses, and players are too willing to cite distraction as a reason for underperformance. But the foolish exile of Seaver and what led to it was a monumental distraction, partially because Seaver allowed it to come into the clubhouse. He had great sway.
Rookie manager Joe Torre identified what evolved in the two weeks before the trade as "leadership in reverse."
To a far greater degree, what Delgado provided was leadership in reverse or, at best, an absence of leadership. He was such a smart hitter and accomplished slugger that all players deferred to him. His presence stunted the growth of others -- Beltran, Reyes and Wright. As long as he was there, no one else felt comfortable stepping forward.
Whatever Delgado provided came only from his bat -- not that his offensive contributions weren't significant.
Years before he joined the Mets in 2006, Delgado, already an established star, was called to the office of his new manager. The new man wanted him to step forward and be a more active force in the clubhouse. Delgado declined. He was there to hit, not lead. Randolph witnessed similar selfishness on Delgado's part. Manuel must have seen it, but he wouldn't acknowledge it.
Another manager once said this of Delgado: "Every day, he does something to disappoint you."
When Delgado was brought down by his hip in May 2009 and vanished from clubhouse life in Flushing, people saw more of the real Beltran -- more smiles, more openness -- even though his own physical problems were not solved.
That's the player the Mets will miss and one the Giants will come to appreciate. It is, in no way, a negative reflection on Beltran that he was traded. The trade was necessary for the Mets. And even if they don't replace his power and defense in right field, they do have the makings of his replacement in the clubhouse dynamic.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.