Mets centered on a new problem

If you are Jeff Wilpon today and you are planning for the 2010 season, it really doesn't matter whether Carlos Beltran violated his contract by having knee surgery Wednesday. There may or may not be a grievance filed, and the Mets may or may not win that. That's a fight for Scott Boras and the Mets' lawyers.

If you are Wilpon, and effectively running the Mets' baseball operations, your focus is on winning and losing games, and there is no silver lining to the news that Beltran just had surgery; there is no glass-half-full angle. The team's highest-paid position player, with two seasons remaining on his contract, has a regressive problem with a weight-bearing joint, and the earliest -- the earliest -- he will return to action appears to be sometime in May, after he turns 33. That's the prognosis, anyway; the prognosis a month ago was that he would be back for spring training.

And because of the Mets' current roster, they are in a terrible position to do any necessary restructuring. Beltran has been an elite center fielder in his career, but there soon might be a day when the best place for him would be in a corner outfield position; Citi Field, with its wide gulfs of space between the outfielders, is not a forgiving place for a center fielder with a chronically bad knee.

But the Mets can't move Beltran to left field for the foreseeable future, because that is now the domain of Jason Bay, who is suited to play two positions in baseball: left field or designated hitter. Jeff Francoeur is the Mets' right fielder, and a good one, and in an emergency, he can shift to center field. He would not be effective, however, as an everyday center fielder.

The Mets can open the year with Angel Pagan in center, or they could give another shot to Fernando Martinez. They could theoretically chase after a free agent who could play center field, like Johnny Damon, but he could be a defensive disaster in Citi Field, with his limited range and poor throwing arm. And it makes little sense for the Mets to spend significant dollars on a center fielder, because it's possible that Beltran will be back on the field sometime in the first half of the 2010 season.

So if you are Wilpon, you will have to sit and wait. And maybe the best thing he can do is to assume that the center field situation is probably never going to be settled this year, and he should do what he can to make the other parts of the team better.

The Mets already have added Bay this offseason, and they are close to landing a new catcher in Bengie Molina, and they're in negotiations with Joel Pineiro. If they think signing Orlando Hudson and relegating Luis Castillo to a backup role makes the everyday lineup better, that is something they should do.

And if you are Wilpon, you can't get caught up in the tension that will play out between the Mets and Carlos Beltran in the days ahead. You need to focus on doing everything you possibly can to win as many games as you can. And your options are imperfect.


Beltran surprised the Mets with his decision to have surgery, writes John Harper, and this speaks to the team's culture. The Mets contacted the commissioner's office about Beltran's surgery, writes Ben Shpigel. This was another case of the Mets failing to communicate, writes Joe Sherman.

Carlos Beltran as a CF in 2009:

BA: .329

HR: 10

RBIs: 47

Runs: 48

SB-CS: 11-1

K-BB: 42-47

Games: 77

Mets' other CF in 2009:

BA: .282

HR: 7

RBIs: 36

Runs: 51

K-BB: 52-18

SB-CS: 10-8

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Heard this: While Beltran suffered the setback, Jose Reyes is doing well in his rehabilitation and can't wait to get spring training started.

2. The Red Sox are going to try to sign Josh Beckett and Victor Martinez to extensions in the weeks ahead, writes Joe McDonald. The guess here is that they'll offer Beckett something very close to what they got John Lackey for -- five years, $82.5 million -- and if he wants more, they'll move on.

3. Brian Shouse signed with the Red Sox, writes Amalie Benjamin.

4. Mark McGwire is back at work, as Derrick Goold writes. Secrecy was a big part of the McGwire strategy, writes Joe Strauss.
It's important now that Roger Maris get a plaque in Cooperstown, writes Bernie Miklasz.

5. The Royals hired Ned Yost, writes Sam Mellinger.

6. The Tigers worked out a deal with Joel Zumaya.

7. Rich Hill is signing somewhere.

8. Jake Westbrook is ready to come back, writes Tom Withers.

9. Mark Mulder is ready to come back, writes Tom Haudricourt.

10. Matt Kemp is close to completing a two-year deal, writes Dylan Hernandez.

11. Russell Branyan is ready to move on from the Mariners, writes Geoff Baker.

12. Aubrey Huff is ready to be the clean-up man in San Francisco, writes John Shea.

13. The free-agent market remains open for offers, writes Larry LaRue.

14. The Blue Jays added some depth.

Twins in free agency

From Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information, some interesting stuff on the Twins' history of spending.

This is a list of the least guaranteed money committed to free-agent signings (approximately) since the 1990-91 offseason.

Pirates: $110.3 million

Nationals: $118.25 million

Twins: $156.33 million

Padres: $156.66 million

Rays: $190.25 million

These are the biggest free-agent commitments by the Twins since that same offseason (1990-91), with the player, year of the deal and years-dollars. Each were re-signing with the Twins, except for Aguilera:

Kirby Puckett | 1992-93 | 5-30.0

Brad Radke | 2004-05 | 2-18.0

Shannon Stewart | 2003-04 | 3-18.0

Rick Aguilera | 1995-96 | 3-9.0

Nick Punto | 2008-09 | 2-8.5

Since 1990-91, the Twins have signed 11 free agents to multiyear deals. The only team to sign fewer multiyear deals in that span is the Nationals, with eight. Here's the list:

Nationals: 8

Twins: 11

Rays: 13

Brewers: 14

Padres: 14

And a breakdown of those Twins multiyear deals since 90-91. Nearly all the deals were 2-year deals, which accounts for eight of the 11 total:

2 years: 8

3 years: 2

4 years: 0

5 years: 1 (Puckett)

6+ years: 0

But the Twins always seem to do more with less. Here are the past eight years, with Opening Day payroll rank and wins. In years with an asterisk, the team made the playoffs.

Other stuff

Boof Bonser is glad to be with the Red Sox, writes John Tomase.

• McGwire didn't come clean, writes Hal McCoy.

• Lou Piniella thinks Mark McGwire should be in the Hall of Fame.

• The Cubs are going to rely on chemistry, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

• Rudy Jaramillo knows how to win people over, he says.

• The Cubs are also close to deciding whether to stay in Arizona, writes Andrew Bagnato.

• Tony La Russa is in the fallout zone, writes Bill Dwyre.

• Logan Morrison is making his case to be the Marlins' first baseman.

And today will be better than yesterday.