How much playing time will Angel Pagan get now that Beltran is back?

Should Beltran play in right field leaving Jeff Francoeur the odd man out?

Jason Bay isn’t hitting for power, so should he become the fourth outfielder?

Shouldn’t the Mets trade one of their outfielders for a starting pitcher?

Whoa people. Slow down a bit.

The news that Carlos Beltran will start his rehab assignment on Thursday has kicked off a great deal of speculation about playing time in the Mets’ outfield.

Although I think this is great news, I’m not ready to discuss the playing time topic yet.

Neither should you.

You see, there is still a long road before we see Beltran roaming center field at Citi Field.

Beltran has a number of steps to go before he gets called up.  It is not impossible for there to be a setback during anyone of these steps. Keep in mind—he still runs with a limp.

Mets’ officials tell us it’s because of his knee brace.  Truthfully, I am not sure if I buy that line 100 percent.

First, Beltran has to test his knee during game situations for a while.

Don’t fool yourself if you think the extended spring training games were going to satisfy this step.  They served as a very controlled way to keep him active until he was ready for a minor-league assignment.

Once Carlos demonstrates that his knee can handle real game situations, he will have to establish the fact that he can play day-to-day for an extended period of time.

This step should take several weeks.  The worst thing the Mets can do is rush his return.

We saw what happened with Jose Reyes in terms of trying to get his feet underneath him while playing in major league games.  The Mets are contending for the pennant and control their own destiny.  They can ill afford Beltran “rehabbing” with the big league club.

It has been made very clear that Carlos will be playing center field when he returns.  So demonstrating that he is ready means showing that he can track down balls in the gap as well as Pagan does now—another reason this limp means we still have some time to go.

Make no mistake, Beltran will play when he returns.  One of the other three outfielders will be the odd man out.  The Mets just need to make sure he is ready.

Keep this in mind; we don’t know what will happen with Bay, Pagan, or Francoeur in the near future.  Baseball is a funny game.

One of these players could get injured (knock on wood),  or in the immortal words of Jeff Francoeur, one of them could wind up “flat-out sucking.”

So let’s slow down a little and see what happens before we start trying to figure out playing time in the outfield.  There is still quite a bit of baseball to be played until any decisions need to be made.

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