PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
One of the first things Carlos Beltran did as a member of the Mets, right after signing that seven-year, $119-million contract, was make a lasting impression on a 22-year-old third baseman named David Wright.
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"I remember Carlos came down for a minicamp, I talked to him a little bit there and we exchanged numbers," Wright recalled Wednesday after Beltran returned to Tradition Field with the Cardinals. "That whole spring training he worked out with me, we hit together, we were in the weight room together. As a young player, I really appreciated that."
Did Wright, back then, ever think he'd get his very own Beltran contract?
"I imagined that I'd get older," Wright said, laughing. "Obviously I never thought that. But he was the type of guy you want to mold your game after -- a five-tool guy that could steal bases, hit for power, hit for average, play Gold Glove defense. That's the kind of player everybody aspires to be -- to do it all."
Wright ultimately surpassed Beltran with his eight-year, $138-million deal this offseason, and the Mets were able to use the final three months of Beltran's contract as the currency to trade for Zack Wheeler. The two were scheduled to face each other Wednesday before Wheeler was scratched because of a strained right oblique muscle, but Beltran still used the visit to catch up.
Despite what Wright described as two "monster" years in Flushing, Beltran's legacy in Flushing feels incomplete because of a pair of brutal late-season collapses and chronic knee issues that plagued him toward the end. During the 2009-2010 seasons, Beltran played a total of 145 games, but the Mets were able to get him productive enough to convince the Giants to trade for him in 2011.
Up to that point in late July, Beltran was hitting .289/.391/.513 through the first 98 games. Though Sandy Alderson gets credit for making what some have said will go down as the best trade of his Mets tenure, Beltran suggested Wednesday that Terry Collins deserves a big assist for keeping him healthy enough to play at all. If Beltran's knees stopped him from putting up decent numbers, there would have been no Wheeler trade.
"I attribute that season to Terry Collins because of the way he communicated with me," Beltran said. "The way he had a plan and listened to how I was feeling. He basically gave me the opportunity to get back."
"I remember the first day he had to slide and stuff . . . " Collins said before the manager used some colorful language to describe just how nervous he was. "But it did work out. We had a tremendous rapport. He's a class act. Just like David. He's not a rah-rah guy, but he's a pro."
Beltran is in the final season of his two-year, $26-million contract he signed with the Cardinals, a windfall from that brief stay with the Giants. He approved that trade because it got him to a contending team, but San Francisco didn't make the playoffs that year. Beltran looks back at that now as a miscalculation on his part -- and the Mets still wound up with an elite pitching prospect that some scouts already have compared to Stephen Strasburg.
"I think it worked out better for them because I thought we were going to the playoffs and it didn't happen," Beltran said."But it is what it is. I took the chance of going to the team that was fighting for a playoff spot and it didn't work out for me. But it worked out for the Mets."
All things considered, Beltran's final days in a Mets' uniform did yield a pretty good result. He didn't get to step in the box Wednesday against Wheeler -- the only interaction was to say hello -- but there will be more opportunities, maybe even later in spring training.
As for Wright, who shared a hug with his former teammate, Beltran believes the Mets invested their money wisely.
"He's a good guy to represent the organization and the younger guys can look up to him," Beltran said. "You like to get the security to be in the same city for a long time. He deserves it."