SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- This being the Mets, of course Carlos Beltran, less than two weeks into his job as the new manager, is now a person of interest in what could turn out to be the most notorious cheating scandal in baseball history.
Earlier this month, the presumably squeaky-clean Beltran was introduced at Citi Field, where general manager Brodie Van Wagenen stood beaming and praised the nine-time All-Star for his poise, intelligence and relentless hunger to win.
But after The Athletic unleashed on-the-record allegations of an illegal, electronic sign-stealing system employed by the Astros during the 2017 season, and a follow-up story linked Beltran and Alex Cora to the plot, Van Wagenen’s prized hire is now cast in a much different light. So with the GM meetings wrapping up Thursday, Van Wagenen took a defensive stance as he exited the resort campus, confronted with a handful of Beltran questions that won’t be resolved until MLB’s probe into the matter is complete.
Though the investigation has only just begun, it appears that serious discipline for Beltran, such as a suspension, is a long shot, according to sources. Beltran was a player on that suspect ’17 team, and MLB seems more focused on targeting the Astros’ higher-ups, such as manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow.
Suspending Beltran and/or Cora -- the former Astros’ bench coach and now Red Sox manager -- would be an unprecedented measure under commissioner Rob Manfred and an extraordinary penalty for people who have moved on to other clubs since the alleged crime.
Regardless of the outcome, Beltran’s Flushing tenure is off to a very turbulent start, despite his denial texts of any wrongdoing to The Athletic. Van Wagenen said he had yet to speak with Beltran since the accusations surfaced (though multiple reporters have) and even mentioned that he didn’t read the articles (stunning, if true).
Coming from the Mets’ GM - the person who hired Beltran after a month-long managerial search - both of those claims are hard to believe. Putting all that aside, however, was Van Wagenen concerned that Beltran could face serious punishment by the Commissioner’s Office?
“I don’t have nearly enough information,” Van Wagenen said, “and I would defer to MLB on any of those questions.”
Well, here’s what MLB is investigating: on-the-record claims that the Astros used a centerfield TV camera to capture the opposing catcher’s signals, in real-time, and then have the feed hooked up to a monitor in the tunnel outside the dugout. From there, the information was relayed to the batter by banging on a trash barrel to indicate an off-speed pitch. The Athletic’s report had conflicting sources on whether or not the practice continued during the playoffs, when the Astros won all four home games to edge the Yankees in the ALCS.
Beltran, heralded as a baseball savant, is well-known for his ability to detect pitch-tipping as well as decode opposing signs. In 2017, he was on the last stop of his 20-year career as an outfielder/DH for the eventual world-champion Astros, and teamed with his good friend, Cora.
The Red Sox hired Cora the following season, and he immediately led them to a World Series title. A year later, after Beltran served as a Yankees’ front-office adviser, the Mets tabbed him to replace Mickey Callaway. Now both are implicated in the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme, the details of which had only been whispered about before former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers helped The Athletic expose them to the public this week.
Van Wagenen, along with other top Mets officials, interviewed Beltran five times before deciding on him over ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez. Despite the supposedly meticulous process, the Mets apparently never spotted any red flags from his Astros tenure, and Van Wagenen bristled Thursday when asked if he needed to further vet Beltran to prevent any more surprises.
“Anything that happened, happened for another organization, with Houston,” Van Wagenen said. “I have no idea if anything did or did not. But at this point, I don't see any reason why this is a Mets situation.”
He’s got to be kidding. The minute Beltran slipped on his No. 15 jersey for this second Flushing tour, everything about him immediately became a Mets situation. Beltran hasn’t been proven guilty of any crime. And sign-stealing by traditional, non-electronic means has been fair game for more than a century, something that Beltran readily admits to.
But as quickly as MLB would like to resolve this problem, nobody knows how messy it’s going to get, and Beltran, only 10 days into his Mets’ gig, is now at the center of the storm. Van Wagenen tried to shield himself Thursday by pleading ignorance on his way to a waiting limo. Going forward, that strategy is about as smart as brandishing an umbrella against a hurricane.