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Lennon: Is Beltran's Mets life nearing its end?

New York Mets batter Carlos Beltran watches his

New York Mets batter Carlos Beltran watches his RBI-sacrifice against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning. (Aug. 4, 2010) Credit: AP

Despite a turbulent stay in Flushing, time has passed quickly for Carlos Beltran. One day, he's signing a seven-year, $119-million contract to become a cornerstone of the franchise, along with Pedro Martinez. Now he's anticipating an offseason in which the Mets could try to trade him as part of their restructuring for 2011.

The last six years did not go exactly as planned for Beltran, and now it's tough to ignore the upcoming expiration date on his tenure with the Mets.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "It's been a learning experience in every aspect. Coming from a small-market team, the whole situation about playing in a big city, all the responsibilities that come with it. It's been a great, great experience for me. I think right now, after playing here six years, I can play anywhere. Once you play in New York, and do well, another city will be a piece of cake for me."

With five weeks left, and another year remaining on his Mets contract, it's not as though Beltran is checking out houses in Boston or Chicago. But looking around the clubhouse, he sees that the Mets might be headed in a different direction next year, and that they already have his potential replacement in Angel Pagan, who is wrapping up a breakthrough season.

Beltran does have a full no-trade clause, but he indicated it would not necessarily be an obstacle. Of course, it will be difficult to move him - and any portion of his $18.5-million salary for next season - if he does not show considerable improvement in the coming weeks. But if the Mets approach him this offseason with a trade proposal, Beltran will listen.

"I have to," he said. "I have to do what's best for me and they have to do what's best for them. I want to win. I want to win a championship before I'm gone from this game, so I have to listen to them and what they have to say. If it works for everybody, then it works for everybody. Right now, I'm not thinking about that. Let's just hope next year we can be better."

Beltran, 33, knows he'll be a better player by then. This injury-delayed season has been frustrating, both for him and the Mets. He wasn't sure what to expect coming off the January surgery on his right knee, but he would not have predicted batting .223 (27-for-121) with two home runs and 14 RBIs in his first 37 games back.

On most days, the knee - protected by a shock-absorbing brace - feels fine. But occasionally, he admits to feeling sluggish, his legs heavy, because he's still getting used to the fatigue of playing on a regular basis. That explains why he has looked a little slow on some balls.

In addition, Beltran has struggled hitting lefthanded, which isn't comfortable for him. After a recent exam by the team's medical staff, it was determined that his muscles along his left side - from his leg up through his rib cage and shoulder - have "tightened" to a degree as he's compensated for the knee.

"You don't feel anything," he said. "But the doctor said that your brain, subconsciously, will try to protect that area. Once you continue to play, that will go away because you'll feel confident putting more weight on that side and distributing the weight the way it should be distributed. From the right side, my hips are firing good, my hands come easier. From the left side, I feel like I'm fighting myself. It's not fluid. I haven't found that everything is working properly. It's getting better. At the beginning, I was not using my legs at all, and to be consistent, you need your legs."

Despite the glacial pace of his recovery, Beltran believes he ultimately will make it back - back to the player who was a five-time All-Star, the one with eight seasons of at least 20 home runs and at least 100 RBIs before the severe bone bruise inside his right knee derailed him last June.

Beltran still has time. Once this season ends, he will have another MRI on his knee, and then four months to focus strictly on baseball again - presumably without the threat of surgery.

Where his career goes from there, he said only God knows. "I think next year will dictate how much baseball I have in me," he said. "I still feel in my heart that I can play five or six more years - in my heart, I feel that. My body is a different story."

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