Carlos Beltran began his career with the Kansas City Royals in 1998. In his first full season in 1999, Beltran won the A.L. Rookie of the Year, batting .293 with 22 HR, 108 RBI, and 27 SB. He spent parts of seven years as a Royal, where he established himself as one of the few five-tool players in the game.

The Royals traded Beltran to the Houston Astros half-way through the 2004 season. Beltran was scheduled to be a free agent after that season, and the Royals knew they would not have the budget to resign him. In 90 games with Houston, Beltran hit 23 HR and helped lead the team to the postseason.

During the 2004 postseason, Beltran put on an offensive performance matched by only one other player in history. Between the NLDS and NLCS, Beltran slugged eight home runs, tying Barry Bonds for the most homers in a single postseason. Though the Cardinals defeated the Astros in the NLCS, Beltran raised his stock significantly, and in perfect time for his free agency.

The Mets signed Beltran to a seven year, $119 million contract, the highest in team history prior to the Mets inking Johan Santana to a six-year $137.5 million contract prior to the 2008 season. Beltran immediately became the face of the franchise and was viewed as the savior who would bring the Mets back to the postseason.

Beltran struggled mightily during his first year in New York, batting .266 while hitting only 16 HR. However, during the Mets’ almost-miracle season of 2006, Beltran led the team with 41 HR and drove in 116 runs. It appeared as if the Mets’ investment had paid off.

Unfortunately, the injury bug has plagued Beltran in much of his time as a Met. From 2007-2009, Beltran saw his home run numbers drop to 33, 27, and 10 respectively. After suffering a knee injury prior to Spring Training, Beltran missed the entire first half of the 2010 season. He rejoined the club right after the All-Star break and has only managed a .214 BA with 2 HR and 14 RBI in 41 games.

The Mets were 10 games over .500 going into the All-Star break and now sit at .500. Beltran’s return sparked the Mets’ offensive struggles in the second half. Yet, manager Jerry Manuel insists on batting him in the middle of the order.

It’s no wonder why they can’t score runs.

I understand that Beltran has been playing hurt, but I would rather see him remain on the DL to recover rather than attempt to come back to early, as he did in July.

The emergence of Angel Pagan this season begs a very important question, one that’s  looming as the Mets head into the offseason: what should they do with Beltran?

Pagan has shown he can be an offensive force for this team as a tremendous defensive centerfielder. With Jason Bay hopefully returning healthy and Jeff Francouer’s potential as an everyday outfielder, Beltran becomes expendable for the 2011 season.

The problem is that Beltran is owed $18.5 million next season. That is a huge sum of money for an aging slugger who has lost most of his speed on the basepaths and range in center field. The Mets have already said that they would be willing to pay half of Beltran’s salary to whatever team acquires him.

The Red Sox would be an interesting trading partner for the Mets. Beltran would fill a huge hole in center field for the Red Sox, assuming they try to trade or release the oft-injured Mike Cameron, and that Jacoby Ellsbury remains in left field.

The Mets could trade Beltran for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Hear me out before you attack this trade.

Despite his 33 saves, Papelbon has blown some huge games for the Red Sox this season, a major factor in why they remain six games behind the Rays and Yankees. The Sox have bounced around the idea of having Daniel Bard close games next year. In more of a set-up role this year, Bard has a minuscule 1.62 ERA. Both teams would benefit from this trade, especially the Mets, who would rid themselves of two headaches: Beltran and of course Francisco Rodriguez.

When it’s all said and done, the Mets may decide to keep Beltran and hope he returns to 2006 form. However, he is owed a lot of money, and the Mets have other gaping holes to fill.

The decision will be in the hands of Omar Minaya or whoever is the Mets’ GM in 2011.

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