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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Will Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen stand by manager Carlos Beltran in wake of sign-stealing scandal?

Mets manager Carlos Beltran talks after being introduced

Mets manager Carlos Beltran talks after being introduced by GM Brodie Van Wagenen, right, during a press conference at Citi Field on Nov. 4, 2019. Credit: Getty Images/Rich Schultz

Full disclosure. I like Carlos Beltran. I enjoyed covering him during what were often turbulent times with the Mets, as well as at every one of his subsequent stops, including that now infamous Astros’ World Series run.

In addition to being a Hall of Famer caliber player, Beltran was always a fun, insightful interview, and I can’t remember coming across anyone in the game who said a bad word about him.

But his current status as Mets’ manager, in the wake of Monday’s incriminating report that fingered him as an Astros’ co-conspirator -- and Tuesday’s stunning firing of Alex Cora by the Red Sox -- is on the brink of being an untenable situation.

The Mets have yet to speak about Beltran since Monday’s report, and despite the team expecting to make some sort of statement Wednesday, that never happened, even with COO Jeff Wilpon and Beltran both in Port St. Lucie. Wilpon traveled to the team’s spring training site for Thursday’s renaming of a street for Mike Piazza and Beltran already had been there with his staff to prep for next month.

It is unclear which way the Mets are leaning as far as Beltran’s future, but they have not issued any sign of public support since three other people -- his former bosses on the Astros -- have been fired for their involvement with the team’s cheating operations in Houston.

Rob Manfred’s stampeding investigation of illegal, tech-aided sign-stealing, which started with the ’17 Astros and is moving on to the ’18 Red Sox, is steamrolling some very successful careers in its path. After Manfred stuck GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch with one-year suspensions, Astros owner Jim Crane booted them from the organization roughly an hour later. On Monday, the Red Sox fired Cora -- a close friend of Beltran’s and a fellow schemer on those ’17 Astros -- without even waiting for a verdict from the commissioner.

And that leaves Beltran standing alone, the last remaining name from Manfred’s report that still holds a management job. To be clear, Beltran was not disciplined by the commissioner, and evidently won’t be. He was a player on that Astros’ team in question, and Manfred chose to only punish the people in charge.

But after all that we’ve learned, all the shady stuff that he’s forever linked to in Houston, can we say this is still the same Carlos Beltran the Mets thought they hired back in November? Put it this way. If Manfred’s report came out before the Mets made their pick, Eduardo Perez would be the manager today. No team would willingly entangle itself in this mess.

Now that the Mets are waist-deep in it, they have to decide if they want to keep trudging through with Beltran, to buck the trend of the other teams who chose to simply move on with a clean slate. And that won’t be easy. Not only will Beltran have this stuff swirling around him for a long while, but so will Brodie Van Wagenen and an improved Mets team that had a legit feel-good vibe around them before this sign-stealing scandal broke.

There are also some unanswered questions that only the Mets can speak to, and they have so far been silent. Was Beltran entirely truthful with them during the interview process? Did the Mets even push him on what were only whispered allegations at that time? And if Van Wagenen & Co. were blindsided by the details that Manfred’s probe uncovered, can they rely on Beltran to be forthcoming as their manager from now on?

The Mets have spent the last 48-plus hours processing all of this information, no doubt discussing much of it with Beltran, who only two months ago was thrilled to be getting his first shot at managing, and coming full circle with the Mets, no less. But a few of Van Wagenen’s words from that day at Citi are now coming back to haunt him.

The GM talked about Beltran “taking it a step further” when it comes to figuring out a way to beat his opponent, and mentioned him looking for “tips” and “little things.”

“We can trust Carlos,” Van Wagenen said then, “and that goes a long way.”

I’m very interested in hearing if Van Wagenen still feels the same. And if so, then by all means, the Mets should rally around Beltran, and come to his defense as their manager. Back in November, the GM gave a long, convincing list of reasons why they hired Beltran, and they shouldn’t back down from that if this cheating scandal didn’t rattle those beliefs.

The Astros and Red Sox just fired very talented people who delivered World Series titles during their tenures, choosing to upend their organizations as a result. Beltran hasn’t managed a game yet for the Mets, but axing him at this stage -- less than a month before the start of spring training -- would create some dizzying turmoil for a franchise that isn’t the most adept at weathering such storms.

Beltran is salvageable, and if the Mets choose to navigate through this, maybe he’ll turn out to be the great manager many predicted he would be before these past two months went sideways. But his rookie season already is far more difficult than he could have imagined, if he still gets to have one in Flushing.

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