PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Has Carlos Beltran played his last game in centerfield? He raised that possibility upon yesterday's arrival at Digital Domain Park. But the Mets won't know for sure until Beltran completes a self-prescribed running program in the next seven to 10 days, after which he and team officials will decide on his outfield position for the coming season.
"I will give them an honest answer of where I stand," Beltran said. "If I feel good physically, my knee is responding well and I am moving well out there, then I would love to play centerfield.
"But at the same time, in my mind, I don't want this to be my last year in the big leagues. I want to play for four or five more years. I understand if my knee is causing me problems, and it's best for me long-term to move to rightfield, that I have to make that move also."
For the past 13 months, Beltran has been trying to build up strength in his right knee after surgery designed to help him avoid a more invasive - and debilitating - microfracture procedure. There is a question if Beltran's right knee, and to some extent his left, ever will be sturdy enough to again make him an MVP-caliber player.
But now that he's entering the final season of his $119-million contract, Beltran clearly is looking to protect himself for his next deal, just as the Mets are figuring out how to maximize their investment in him for 2011. To that end, Beltran met with manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson shortly after he showed up Saturday to go over his proposed conditioning plan.
Even though Beltran is pain-free and has been running without his custom brace, he intends to wear it again for games. That's an indication he still is concerned about preserving the knee, and the arthritic joint might have only so much left before it needs another surgery.
"The important thing to keep in mind is, number one, Carlos is an extraordinarily important part of our team, and number two, we want him to be on the field as much as he possibly can be this year and through the remaining many years of his career," Alderson said.
"But ultimately this decision will be made not only in Carlos' best interest but also in the best interests of the organization. We're going to respect the input that we get from Carlos and I think that he recognizes that it will be an organization decision at some point."
The hesitation that Beltran displayed Saturday suggests he already might be leaning toward rightfield. Part of that could have to do with his difficulty playing center last season, when he hardly resembled a three-time Gold Glove winner. As much as Beltran sees himself as a centerfielder and takes great pride in the position, he needs to get that confidence back.
"I will be honest because I won't cheat myself," Beltran said. "I don't like to look bad. I don't want to embarrass myself. I want to make sure that when I'm out there and I'm willing to take the field, I'm good to go."
Beltran declined to make any bold prediction about returning to centerfield, and Collins isn't sure where he might fit best. Knowing that Beltran is most comfortable in center, and with Citi Field's crazy dimensions, the Mets might be better off with Angel Pagan in rightfield. Still, Collins is content to wait up to 10 days or so for Beltran to help him make that determination.
"He thinks he can play centerfield, and he probably can," Collins said. "I hope he can. But he said, 'If I don't think I can help this team in centerfield, I'll move.' We talked about the fact that I don't want to move him back and forth. I don't think that's fair. He told me that he will not have that."