As scripted performances go, the Mets made a very convincing sales pitch Monday with The Carlos Beltran Show at Citi Field.
There was Beltran, wearing his old No. 15, looking as if he had never left (although resembling more of a DH than a centerfielder) and delivering a heartfelt, sincere opening monologue.
“Thank you for believing in me,” Beltran said at the podium. “I just can’t wait to rewrite our story.”
For those still fuming over Joe Girardi’s jump to Philly, or skeptical about the Mets’ monthlong process, Brodie Van Wagenen gave what amounted to a power-point presentation, outlining the five reasons, number by number, why Beltran was the right choice.
Boiled down, they were 1) poise, 2) trust, 3) growth, 4) a winning mindset and 5) an appreciation for players.
Van Wagenen really excels at this part of the game, because that’s the agent in him speaking. He’s a great salesman. But because many of us already are familiar with Beltran, we can recite what’s on the window sticker. Beltran’s character is first-rate, and he ranks in the highest percentile when it comes to baseball IQ.
Beltran, back in a Mets uniform, sells himself, really.
But the question left unanswered Monday is the only one that matters. Why should we believe Beltran, as a first-time manager, in this uber-challenging environment, will succeed where so many others before him have failed?
To help with that, I asked Omar Minaya, who has known Beltran since the new manager was 17 and first brought him to the Mets as the centerpiece of the 2005 rebuild. Minaya has operated in the Flushing minefield, off and on, for more than two decades, witnessing the life cycles of four different managers. So what’s the key?
“You look smart when you get good players,” Minaya said, smiling.
He went on to talk about putting a solid coaching staff around Beltran, which made sense for a rookie in that role. Minaya also described two more elements that you can’t really simulate with a first-timer during the interview process but that Beltran currently has in his favor: earning his New Yorker status and possessing a resiliency that was developed during his previous Mets stay.
“He’s been here,” Minaya said. “He knows what goes on here, and knows that being successful is not about the good days. It’s more about bouncing back from the bad days.”
Is there any truer statement regarding the Mets? From the dugout bench to the tippy-top seats of the Coca-Cola Corner, if you’re going to associate yourself with this franchise, you need to be able to take a punch or two. Or a hundred. That comes with the territory. It’s understood.
We think Beltran has the jaw for this job. He was booed at Shea in his first season, ridiculed in print by owner Fred Wilpon years later and even had a nasty, prolonged dust-up with COO Jeff Wilpon over knee surgery unsanctioned by the team. Both sides insist those bad feelings were resolved a long time ago, and they never came up when Beltran re-engaged the Wilpons about the manager’s position.
“What makes him ready? Well, 20 years of playing in the big leagues, and a number of them in this marketplace — with the media, the fan scrutiny, and the highs and lows,” Jeff Wilpon said Monday. “It’s his consistency. And that’s what won him the day.”
But now that Beltran is here, does ownership, as well as Van Wagenen, feel an added responsibility to shrink the risk factors around him, such as investing more cash in the 2020 roster? I posed that to Wilpon directly, but he wouldn’t go there yet, explaining that hiring Beltran had occupied all of their attention leading into Monday.
“The players have to go out there and play,” Wilpon said. “We all know that. And we have good players. A couple of [managerial] candidates came and said, we see 21 spots on your roster here already taken. That’s probably true.”
The Mets do have a promising young core, and Wilpon didn’t elaborate on just how aggressive they will be this winter in shoring up those four available spots.
We learned Monday that Yoenis Cespedes remains a question mark for next season, but he’s still a huge drag on their payroll, which for luxury tax purposes (with estimated arbitration numbers) will sit at roughly $186 million (and a tax threshold of $208 million for the coming year).
Beltran deserved the praise heaped on him Monday. But how much of that had to do with the Mets showing him off as the major difference-making move of their offseason?
“Carlos has an appetite to collaborate,” Van Wagenen said. “He’s a mentor and he’s a communicator. When we put all this together, Carlos’s experience, combined with his personal attributes, will give him instant credibility in our clubhouse with the players.”
Monday was a big improvement over Mickey Callaway’s player-smooching lovefest that took place downstairs two years earlier. The Mets are getting much slicker at packaging the message, and we fully expect Beltran to be a better manager than his predecessor. But now that the show is over, it’s back to reality — and the hard part.