The great thing about spring training and Opening Day is that every major league baseball team starts off on equal footing and thinks they have a chance at making the playoffs. Everyone has a clean slate, so the past is forgotten and the future is is pursued. Coming into the 2011 season, most “experts” predicted that the Boston Red Sox would win the American League East and likely represent the AL in the World Series. These same “experts” also likely prognosticated that the Baltimore Orioles would finish in the basement of the American League East and be a stepping stone for the contenders. And come October, they may be right. But as we sit here on April 4, 2011, just a few days into the season, what was up is down, and what was in is out.
The Red Sox just got swept out of Texas by the defending American League champions and did not look good in the process. Boston’s starting pitching did not live up to the hype over the first three games. Additionally, Carl Crawford, one of the prized free agent acquisitions, didn’t show much to justify his enormous contract either. It is only three games, but everything the Red Sox do is viewed under a very narrow microscope. On the flip side, the Orioles are now 4-0 after sweeping the defending AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays and the defeating Detroit in their home opener in Baltimore. This is the first time since 1977 that the Orioles started 4-0. They didn’t make the playoffs that year, but the point is driven home that this is not a common occurrence for this once proud franchise. The thing is that, on paper, Baltimore has one of the more explosive lineups in baseball. With the additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, the Orioles have provided solid depth to complement Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. The problem is that the O’s pitching is young, inexperienced, and very shallow.
So after all the moves were made in the off-season and then analyzed to death, look where we are after just four days. The Orioles are already three and a half games ahead of Boston in the standings. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that and not been committed to an insane asylum. But that is what is so great about baseball. In the end, the law of averages will likely prevail and the Red Sox will hit their stride, likely leaving the Orioles well behind in their rear-view mirror. But for now, it is fun to see the standings look upside down. Props to Buck Showalter who once again proves that he knows how to change the culture of a young, losing team. Hopefully he’ll have the chance to see it through if Baltimore can somehow maintain this pace.
After much speculation in the off-season and heading into spring training, it was officially announced on February 27 that Carlos Beltran would shift from center field to become the Mets rightfielder. Apparently, he informed manager Terry Collins that he didn’t think his knee could hold up playing centerfield, a position he has excelled at since reaching the major leagues full-time in 1999. As we all know, Beltran underwent a knee operation in early 2010, against the wishes of the Mets medical staff and front office. This surgery cost Beltran the first 4 months of the 2010 season, and by the time he returned after the All Star break, it was clear that he wasn’t fully healed.
Based on where they are in the respective careers, Angel Pagan is the better option for the Mets in center field. He is younger, faster and healthier. His arm is at least above average, so he will do a fine job taking on that role. Beltran now shifts to right field, which generally speaking does not require as much running and physical exertion merely because of the field’s dimensions. However, Citi Field is unique because of its right field configuration with the angles, walls and fences. While Beltran is better suited to play right field, this will not be an easy transition for him. In fact, he may be putting himself in more danger with this move because he will have to stop short against the corner wall, possibly slide into a wall, and plant his feet and stop short to play carems and angles.
Regardless of the pitfalls, this move makes the most sense for the Mets. Despite whatever corporate mantra and politically correct statements come from the team, the reality is that the Mets will not be in the playoff picture this year. They need to start focusing on the future, starting with 2012. Beltran’s contract expires at the end of this season, and while he may very well put up huge numbers as he seeks a big payday, he is likely not part of the Mets’ long-term plans. Putting Beltran in right field will potentially increase his trade value because other teams may be hesitant to acquire damages goods and throw him into center field. If the Mets can get anything in return for him in terms of prospects or younger quality players, then it is worth exploring.
Regardless of the motivations, Beltran did exactly the opposite of what he did in 2010. Last year, he impermissibly had surgery which cost him several months. He then forced his way back into the major league lineup when it was apparent he wasn’t ready. The Mets were in playoff contention at the 2010 All Star break. When the second half began on the West coast, Beltran returned to the lineup and things went south very quickly. That is not to say the Mets’ failures were directly related to Beltran, but something can be said about putting him back into the mix when he was a liability to the team. In comparison, this spring he has now taken the initiative to tell his manager that he is limited in his abilities due to the lingering injury and slow healing process. This allows Terry Collins to adjust his defensive alignment and give Angel Pagan the necessary time and practice to establish himself as the team’s true center fielder.