Season in preview: Right fielders

The man himself.

The right fielders in April: Carlos Beltran, Scott Hairston, Lucas Duda

Overview: I want Carlos Beltran to hit 100 home runs this year.

I would gladly withstand the inevitable obnoxious cries of “contract year” to watch that unfold. Beltran is aging — has aged — before our eyes, and seeing him struggle to stay on the field and productive over the past couple of years strikes me as a terrifying reminder of our universal mortality. Carlos Beltran, despite what we may have once believed, is human. And the baseball lifespan of a baseball player is depressingly short. Beltran is 33 — just a few years older than me — and for him to even enjoy a season anything like the ones he put up in his “prime” years would amount to triumphing over the effects of time.

Can you imagine how frightening it must be to have the same body that made you an exceptional professional athlete begin to break down by the time you’re 32? And I know Carlos Beltran makes a gajillion dollars are year and we shouldn’t pity him. But do you really think it’s all about money for most Major Leaguers? Do you think only the allure of riches drives Beltran to endure surgeries and train tirelessly and shoulder the ridiculous never-ending cavalcade of nonsense?

I find that hard to believe.

So I want Carlos Beltran to hit 100 home runs this season. I want that because I’m a Mets fan who loves home runs and spectacle, and because I am also not immune to aging. It’d be nice to get a reminder that despite the odds, despite the pain, despite the awful things we all will inevitably withstand as part and parcel of being a human on planet Earth, we still have time to be great.

Naturally I don’t think it’ll happen, what with it being hyperbole and all. But though all the talk this spring has focused on Beltran’s conversion to right field and knee troubles and cortisone shots and everything else, he has quietly looked awesome at the plate. As I write this he is crushing bombs over the deep left-center field fence in Sun Life Stadium.

Today, Beltran told me the knee issues don’t affect him at the plate. I asked him if he thought his offseason workout program — designed to strengthen the muscles around his knee to keep the knee healthy — might also benefit his power. He said he generates most of his power from his legs, so he thought that it could.

100 home run power? Well, Beltran reminded me that “power doesn’t just mean home runs.” Plus it would be 27 home runs more than anyone has ever hit in a 162-game season, and Beltran’s going to get a lot of days off. But it’s Opening Day, so why not dream a little?

The right fielders in September:

I can’t say it. I know there are all sorts of rational reasons to expect Beltran might not be in the lineup come the end of the season. If he stays healthy and some of the Mets’ prospects succeed in Triple-A, Beltran could be dangled at the trade deadline in the last year of his contract. And at this point it’s hard to imagine he’ll stay healthy.

But a couple of days ago someone asked me my favorite player on the Mets. I instinctively said “Beltran,” and I realized that he might be my last “favorite” player for the foreseeable future. Though I have no trouble rooting for the Mets as passionately as I always have, one of the sad realities of this job is that as I get to talk to and spend more time around the players, it becomes way more awkward and difficult to lionize them the way I could before being credentialed. And though I’m happy to sacrifice that for the utter awesomeness of being able to watch baseball for a living, it’s not something I’m all that eager to let go of.

How they stack up: Jason Heyward is an absolute stud. People who can hit like did at 20 years old usually end up in the Hall of Fame. Mike Stanton, similarly young but without an approach as advanced as Heyward’s, should hit a bunch of home runs if the whiffing doesn’t catch up with him. Jayson Werth is pretty damn good too. Whenever he’s healthy, Beltran will be better than Ben Francisco. He’ll need to be classic Carlos Beltran to compare to the rest.

 

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