Carlos Beltrán could be out of a job before he even truly gets into it, which might truly take the Mets cake.
Yes, Beltrán escaped reprimand for his role in the Astros electronic sign-stealing scandal, but not because he didn’t deserve it; getting away with a crime and being innocent are very different things. Players were granted immunity because MLB needed them to be cooperative and honest in their investigation interviews, not because they were not culpable, or worthy of investigating. They were not punished because their GM and manager took the fall.
With Astros owner Jim Crane firing his GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch on Monday, and the Red Sox and Alex Cora ‘mutually agreeing to part ways’ on Tuesday, the focus now pivots to Beltrán and the Mets.
Beltrán’s situation is unique from that of his former teammates for two reasons. The first is that he is the only player mentioned by name in the Commissioner’s press release about the investigation, which is not a positive kind of recognition. In the section that discusses player involvement, the release details a group of players who initially came up with the Astros plan, which was then carried out by them and then-bench coach Cora. Beltrán is the only player recognized by name, spearheading the effort. In fact, he is the only player mentioned by name in the entire release. That is not how one wants to be distinguished from the pack.
The second reason is his career since retiring, more specifically, his current position. Beltrán officially retired in November 2017, a couple of weeks after Houston’s ill-gotten victory. At the time, the 2017 World Series was the pinnacle of a 20-year career of impressive achievements: 1999 American League Rookie of the Year, 9-time All-Star, 3-time Gold Glover, 2-time Silver Slugger, a 30-30 season in 2004, the fifth player in MLB history to hit 400 home runs and steal 300 bases, just to name a few. Winning a World Series was what Beltrán had worked for his entire career, and it seemed like he refused to retire until he did. It’s why he returned to Houston, thirteen years after his first short stint with them for part of 2004, when he’d hit 8 home runs in their fruitless postseason run to tie Barry Bonds’ single postseason record. His role in the 2017 season was certainly that of the veteran leader; a mix of player, appearing in 129 regular season games, and something of a mentor/coach, a role that differentiated him from his teammates. 2017 was his crowning glory, a moment worth waiting for, the perfect way to say goodbye to his playing days, and transition into advising, coaching, and ultimately managing a team of his own.
In retirement, Beltrán continued down his desired career trajectory. During the 2017-2018 offseason, he interviewed to be the manager of another one of his former teams, the New York Yankees. Though the job ultimately went to fellow former Yankee Aaron Boone, the Yankees hired Beltrán to serve as special advisor to general manager Brian Cashman during the following offseason. And this past fall, his other former New York team, the Mets, gave him a 3-year contract to replace Mickey Callaway. Almost two years to the day he announced his retirement, Carlos Beltrán was going to be the captain of his own ship.
Even more so than his former manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora, Beltrán’s career was really only beginning when this news broke in November. But regardless of who was punished and who was not, if Beltrán truly spearheaded the cheating campaign, is he the kind of person to lead a team of young, impressionable players? Is he the kind of person who should be the face of an organization? Is he the example set for young baseball fans? Yes, he was a player at the time, and players are not being punished. Their former GM and manager have taken the fall for them. But none of them are in the same position as Beltrán. And he knew it was wrong, because though his manager never explicitly forbade the activity, Hinch damaged the illegal video monitors multiple times in protest of his players’ actions. Maybe Beltrán should not have been singled out from his teammates and punished, but it doesn’t feel right to see him in a position of authority, either.
The Mets have been cornered into un-winnable position: either stick with Beltrán and the doubts that surround him, or do the seemingly-unthinkable, and part ways with a manager before Spring Training, and join the Astros and Red Sox in the frantic search for viable replacement leaders. In 2018, the Reds fired Bryan Price 18 games into the regular season; they had a 3-15 record at the time. Plenty of other managers have been fired even sooner into the season; after being with the club since his minor league days in 1957, Cal Ripken Sr. was ousted a mere 6 games into the Orioles’ 1988 season, while his own son was on the team. According to National Pastime, four managers have been fired during Spring Training, though none of them were in their inaugural season.
Beltrán’s former Yankees teammate Mark Teixeira says that the Mets must fire him, reiterating the opinion that immunity and innocence are not the same. The Mets have gone radio silent, but reports say they are “wavering” on Beltrán. If that is the case, then he is finished before he’s even begun. It seems unfathomable that a rookie manager could effectively shepherd his flock with his integrity in question from the jump.
For a league in which consequences for bad behavior have been few and far between in the last couple decades, the tides certainly seem to be changing.
January 16, 2020: At approximately1:10 PM, news broke that Carlos Beltrán will step down as Mets manager. He is the third manager to lose his job as a result of the Astros scandal.
Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images