- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The 2009 season was a miserable one for the New York Mets and their fans, and, well, the 2010 season isn't off to such a great start, either.
Center fielder Carlos Beltran had surgery on his right knee Wednesday. The Mets aren't happy about that, implying the procedure was unnecessary. Beltran's agent, the inimitable Scott Boras, disagrees (of course he does). Whatever the case, this Boras quote scares me as a fantasy baseball owner:
- "The doctor said eight weeks, possibly, and a window to 12 weeks to resume baseball activities. With elite athletes, the timetable is sometimes shorter than the original prognosis."
Here's my unoriginal prognosis for fantasy drafts: Let Beltran be someone else's problem.
Sure, we're all looking for value in any fantasy draft, so I would never say never on selecting Beltran. There is certainly a round in which I would feel comfortable drafting him, but it's definitely well after the top 100. I wanted to believe Beltran was healthy, but he's not. By many accounts, his right knee is mush. Boras himself says "a window to 12 weeks to resume baseball activities." Well, I watched many a frustrated Beltran owner wait for him to resume these activities in 2009. How'd that work out? Timetables are a very dangerous thing to depend on in a fantasy draft, even when they relate to so-called "elite athletes," and nobody wants to see a timetable being set ... in mid-January.
Here are five reasons I'd flat-out avoid Beltran in mixed drafts until about the 15th round, if he manages to slip that far:
Twelve weeks? Twelve weeks can turn into 24 weeks quickly, and the Mets have way too much invested in Beltran financially to risk pushing him back. In retrospect, I'm even more stunned that Beltran was allowed to come back in September, for a team going nowhere. On the Baseball Today podcast on Thursday, Peter Pascarelli and I theorized we might not see this guy back until Memorial Day. Maybe that's pessimistic, but why believe any timetable, especially on a troublesome knee that wasn't supposed to cost him half the 2009 season? Outfield is a deep fantasy position. Draft a healthy player instead, one who you know will be on the field in April.
Angel Pagan: Draft this guy! Pagan is going to replace Beltran in center field, and while I'd never compare these two players -- one could end up with Hall of Fame votes and the other has journeyman written all over him -- the fact is that Pagan played well in 2009. He hit 11 triples in half a season. His overall OPS matched that of David Wright, who contended for the batting title. Pagan hit .306, with a .333 average and .938 OPS at unfavorable Citi Field. I'm more likely to make Pagan, a potential double-double guy, my last-round mixed-league pick than take Beltran in the top 100. Let's not get crazy here, since regular playing time likely will expose Pagan over time. My point is if Pagan performs anything like he did in 2009, there's yet another reason for Beltran to be treated with patience and caution.
Beltran is no kid: Beltran will be 33 in April, which isn't old, but consider this is a guy who has logged 12 major league seasons already, done so in a demanding position (center field) and attempted more than 300 stolen bases. That adds up. I absolutely view players returning from injury in a different light when they are 26, as opposed to being 33. I don't doubt Beltran had this surgery to fix what was wrong and make him healthy for the long haul, but I think these procedures add up and affect initial recovery.
The stolen base factor: I have to believe if there's anything the Mets do not want Beltran to do when he returns, it's excessive running. Beltran has been a terrific fantasy player for a long time, but we can't deny that his stolen bases are a key cog in his value. Beltran has stolen no fewer than 17 bases in any full season of his career, and in 2007 and 2008, he averaged 24 steals. Since Beltran is no longer someone who hits .300 or produces massive power totals, the threat of his not running -- see Alfonso Soriano -- should scare us. Beltran stole 11 bases in 81 games a year ago. I doubt he runs even that much returning from this knee surgery.
The ballpark factor: We have to deal with the proverbial elephant in the fantasy baseball room. Can any Mets batter hit for the same power he did at Shea Stadium? I'm on record as stating Wright tops 20 home runs this season, and I think a healthy Beltran, with 140 games, would do the same. But certainly we can't ignore the fact that home runs are difficult to hit at Citi Field. Beltran slugged only .464 in his career at Shea Stadium. Add recovery from knee surgery to dealing with a tough ballpark, and it's a problem.
A week ago, before this new knee surgery came to light, I had Beltran projected for around 140 games, 22 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Those really aren't top-50 overall numbers to start with, people. I acknowledge it's possible Beltran comes back on May 1 and hits like a monster, but it's difficult to view this situation with optimism. In his recent top 200, colleague Tristan Cockcroft placed Beltran at No. 79 overall, 23rd among outfielders. My ranking was similar. Now everything has changed. Among the outfielders I have ranked outside my top 40 at the position whom I would draft ahead of Beltran at this point are Michael Cuddyer, Juan Rivera, Corey Hart, Brad Hawpe, Ryan Ludwick and Franklin Gutierrez. Yep, that's pretty telling. We all like our sleepers, but Carlos Beltran, with his name, will never be a true sleeper. Be cautious here, be very cautious, or just let someone else deal with it.