PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The next stage of Carlos Beltran's career, as well as the further transformation of the Mets, began at roughly 7:30 Monday morning. That's when Beltran requested a meeting with Terry Collins and told the manager he will move to rightfield.

"I came here today thinking in my heart, I still feel that I can play centerfield," Beltran said Monday in a dugout news conference. "But at the same time, this is not about Carlos. This is about the team. And in order for me to play centerfield, I need more time.

"I don't want to create any distractions here. I want to play right. I think it's best for the team. It's going to be best for me, also, best for my knee, and it's going to be less active than playing centerfield. I'm happy to turn that position to a guy that I know and I feel that he can do a great job in centerfield."

That guy is Angel Pagan, who played 94 games in center last season. He also describes Beltran as a "mentor," and the close relationship between the two made the transition that much smoother.

"I feel really fortunate to be passed this torch from the player I always looked up to," Pagan said. "I think having him here right next to me is going to be a great plus for me."

At the start of spring training, Collins estimated the Mets would wait until midway through the Grapefruit League schedule before settling on a position for Beltran.

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The plan was for him to finish a running program of seven to 10 days to strengthen his right knee, then figure out the best fit.

That's why Collins was a little nervous Monday when Beltran showed up at the clubhouse and immediately asked for a meeting with him and general manager Sandy Alderson. The GM was away at a charity function in California, so it was just Collins and Beltran before Pagan later was called over.

Collins has held the manager's title for a little more than three months, and this was a conversation he had reason to dread. But Beltran seemed as if he was leaning toward rightfield when he first arrived in Port St. Lucie, and after 13 seasons and 1,563 games in centerfield, he turned over the position without a fight. Beltran has played only three games in rightfield, all of them in 2000 with the Royals.

"As a manager, when you're going to face a situation where you're thinking about a position change with a star player, you're hoping and you're praying that it goes like this," Collins said. "You're hoping that your star walks in and tells you this is what's best for the team and you'll have no problem with me. This is a huge hurdle for us to get over."

Beltran still has a few hurdles to clear himself, and Collins is hopeful that he can start handling DH duties this weekend. After that, the plan is for Beltran to start playing rightfield around March 12 at the earliest.

That gives him more than two weeks to prepare for Opening Day, and Beltran said he will be ready by then.

"I'm not concerned at all," he said.

Beltran is only 13 months removed from surgery on his right knee, which has been diagnosed with arthritis, and he believed there was no point in delaying what probably was inevitable. He turns 34 on April 24, and now that he's in the final season of his $119-million contract, this is a concession to his future.

Beltran consulted agent Scott Boras, former Met Carlos Delgado - one of his best friends - and family members before making the decision.

"They all told me, you're a good athlete, you have the potential to do it," Beltran said. "At the same time, they all told me it's going to be a relief on your knee. You're going to save your legs in your career. It wasn't that difficult.

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"If we can have Jason Bay in left, Pagan in center, myself in right, I think that's a pretty good outfield. I think right now for the benefit of the team, for the benefit of Carlos, it was time for me to make the move."