As much as Carlos Beltran is regarded as a high-ceiling managerial prospect, seasoned by a 20-year playing career that could land him in Cooperstown, he returns to Citi Field as a considerable gamble in this new role.
Just look at the risk factors. Zero job experience. A general manager only one year removed from his lifelong agent career. A hyper-involved ownership group in the Wilpons, who often clashed with Beltran during his previous Flushing tenure. A twice-daily media workload that is unlike anything he’s experienced before.
Those all represent potential fault lines, fissures that can crack and expand over time if the pressure builds to dangerous levels. Beltran is a rookie again, taking over a Mets gig that I believe might be the toughest in the sport, and he won’t be spared the same trials that tested (and often torpedoed) his predecessors.
Yes, the Beltran gambit comes with a sizable risk, one that can’t be erased completely. But it can be minimized to a certain degree. To what extent depends on how much the Mets are willing to spend this offseason, along with Brodie Van Wagenen’s aptitude for coaxing more investment from the Wilpons in the coming months.
The Mets had the opportunity to put a proven difference-maker in the manager’s chair, but they passed on Joe Girardi, who now will be able to torment them with the Phillies. If you subscribe to the belief that a smart manager can be worth four or five wins, then maybe Girardi, right out of the box, had the potential to get these Mets — after a bullpen renovation — in the 90-or-so range next year.
Can Beltran do the same? It’s within the realm of possibility. There’s a percentage chance. Now it’s up to the Mets to increase that percentage, to create more favorable odds, and the most reliable way to do that is to improve the talent on the field.
It’s the goal every winter, right? Even for the notoriously frugal Mets. But the hiring of Beltran represents another swing-from-the-heels for Van Wagenen, and he needs to connect on this one.
Mickey Callaway’s flameout wasn’t on Van Wagenen’s resume, but Beltran now joins the Robinson Cano-Edwin Diaz trade and the Jed Lowrie signing at the very top, in red ink, with all caps.
There is a fine line between bold and reckless. Van Wagenen pledged to deliver multiple championships when he became GM a year ago, and so far, despite his big ideas, he’s 0-for-1. Beltran now becomes another promise, presumably an upgrade over Callaway, yet with no guarantees.
“Thanks to Jeff [Wilpon] and the ownership group for their ongoing support as we worked through a very detailed managerial search process,” Van Wagenen said in Friday’s statement.
The smart business plan would be to keep up that “ongoing support” in terms of financial investment. The more the Mets win — regardless of the reason — the better the Beltran hiring looks, and that’s worth paying for. Van Wagenen just has to convince the Wilpons to pony up. Maybe with some kind of slide presentation involving the Nationals and Astros?
We’ll assume the Mets remain penned in by the luxury-tax threshold, which for 2020 stands at $208 million. They currently sit around $138 million (using Cot’s Baseball Contracts as a reference), with another expected $48 million in arbitration payments that brings the total to $186 million before a penny is spent in free agency.
So that means roughly $22 million under the cap — oh, excuse us, “threshold” — or not even a single year of Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. But if the Mets chose to take advantage of all their recent insurance kickbacks from David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes, they could easily cover the tax penalties of going past $208 million — it’s 20 percent on the amount over, for a first-time club like the Mets, all the way up to $228 million.
Who knows? The Mets may even continue collecting insurance on Cespedes this season, as there have been no updates on his condition. But we digress.
The point is the Mets could use this Beltran Homecoming as a springboard into a period of greater prosperity if they grasp the importance of the moment.
Of course, surrounding Beltran with a solid coaching staff will help, and reuniting him with BFF Terry Collins on the bench probably would spawn a thousand “relationship goal” memes. But if the Mets want to make the Yankees jealous for letting Beltran get away, to make him a winner from the jump, they need to import more talent. And with Van Wagenen already having depleted the farm system, that means spending some cash.
There’s no reason to think the Mets suddenly will do that. But a few months ago, we never thought they’d bring back Beltran. Now, with the risk involved, significantly bumping up the payroll should be considered an investment in his future.