After Carlos Beltran had knee surgery in early January, the Mets were short on outfielders, especially those who could play center field. To add some depth, they made a no-upside move by trading Brian Stokes for Gary Matthews Jr. It was a bizarre deal. But as long as the Mets were willing to cut GMJ when he inevitably stunk up the joint, no harm would be done. Common sense dictated that he was a bench player and the emerging Angel Pagan was the starting center fielder. Unfortunately, Jerry Manuel was the Mets' manager at the time, and decided that GMJoke would start on Opening Day. Jerry's trolling wouldn't last long though -- Pagan started game #3 and basically played every day through season's end. GMJ was gone by early June.
Pagan started slowly -- he had a .694 OPS in April. There were some low rumblings that perhaps his strong 2009 season was a fluke, and his true talent level was closer to his pre-2009 OPS+ of 83. Then he caught fire from May through July, on his way to being the most valuable Met in 2010 according to both FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) and Baseball-Reference WAR (bWAR). His combination of above average hitting and exceptional defense made him the 8th most valuable NL outfielder according to fWAR.
Beltran returned after the All Star break, when the Mets were 48-40 and four games out in the NL East. Amazin' Avenue readers projected a .276/.363/.460 slash line for Voltron. This turned out to be a bit too sanguine. He slumped in July and August, and his defense in center field wasn't pretty (Pagan moved to the corner outfield spots). The Mets slid out of contention, exciting the Beltran hecklers. And he was featured in a media-fabricated controversy involving a team visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Read Sam's excellent take on the situation if you missed it. When all looked lost, Beltran went on a tear down the stretch. He posted a September OPS of .967 before missing the last six games with a knee injury. His defense also seemed much better those last few weeks.
So after three paragraphs of lame season recap that most fans already know, here are some words about center field (and right field) going forward. Pagan is my 2011 Opening Day center fielder, with Beltran in right field. I don't want Beltran traded -- this team can contend next season. They shouldn't enter rebuilding mode. His value is low for obvious reasons and the Mets would have to pay much of his salary in a trade. Don't GMJ him, as the Angels did last offseason by eating millions of dollars to unload dead weight.
A starting outfield of Jason Bay, Pagan and Beltran clearly has injury concerns. A fourth quality outfielder is necessary. My target would be Kosuke Fukudome of the Cubs. He's an above average hitter with terrific plate discipline and a decent glove in right field. The Cubs outfield is crowded, with Alfonso Soriano, Tyler Colvin and Marlon Byrd around. Maybe the Cubbies would be willing to pay some of the $13.5 million owed Fukudome in 2011 (the final year of his contract). Or take part in a trade involving Francisco Rodriguez, Luis Castillo or Oliver Perez.
Beltran has played 13,000+ innings in center field during his career -- and exactly 45.2 in corner outfield spots. A position change might not be a welcome suggestion for the talented veteran. It's a young man's position though, and Pagan's defense is too valuable to not be utilized in center. Hopefully the new GM broaches the topic delicately, and earlier rather than later. Let Beltran spend the offseason planning on a move to right field. Then (hopefully) watch him enjoy a terrific final season in Flushing.
Desired 2011 starting center fielder: Angel Pagan
Projected 2011 starting center fielder: Carlos Beltran