What's next for the Mets?

BY Bob Klapisch • January 15, 2010

The Mets spent the last four weeks tending to their publicity machine. They paraded Jason Bay around Citi Field after successfully plucking him away from the Red Sox. They had Jose Reyes declare his legs were as good as new on WFAN, the team’s flagship station, and lured David Wright out of a winter-long absence so he could explain his formula to hit more home runs in 2010.

It was all part of the plan to erase 2009 from the public’s memory. “Here’s to good health” was the new slogan in Flushing — until Wednesday night.

Not only has the brief run of optimism been nuked by news of Carlos Beltran’s knee surgery, a public war is quickly emerging between the Mets and their best player.

The Mets are insisting Beltran underwent surgery on Wednesday without their consent. As a result, team lawyers have filed notice with agent Scott Boras and the union, indicating they considered the surgery elective and in violation of his contract.

Beltran hotly disputed that claim in a statement released on Thursday.
“Any accusations that I ignored or defied the team’s wishes are simply false," he said.

Beltran insisted that, in a conversation with GM Omar Minaya prior to the surgery, "(Minaya) did not ask me to wait, or to get another doctor’s opinion. He just wished me well. No one from the team raised any issue until Wednesday, after I was already in surgery. I do not know what else I could have done."

Nevertheless, the Mets remain adamant that Beltran potentially voided his contract, which requires written permission for any elective surgery.

“We’re reserving our rights,” said assistant general manager John Ricco, during a 30-minute conference call with the media on Thursday. “Where it goes from here, we’re not sure.”

Although the Mets aren’t taking any immediate action against Beltran, their letter to Boras nevertheless represents a first-step in a potential grievance. Should Beltran fail to return to the field this year or next, the Mets may seek to recoup some or all of the $37 million they owe him through 2011.

For now, the Mets are complaining — loudly and publicly — that Beltran was too hasty in agreeing to surgery. But Boras says Steadman spoke to Mets’ team physician David Altchek on Tuesday. They two agreed surgery was indeed necessary, and according to Boras, the Mets’ doctor agreed to relay the conversation to ownership.

But team officials decided they were opposed to immediate surgery and instead wanted another opinion.

“Our conversation with Scott was very direct,” said Ricco. “We didn’t want Carlos to do anything until we got back to him. We needed time to digest the information.”

Beltran says that wish was never conveyed to him and by the next morning, it was too late. Beltran had been wheeled into the operating room at 7 a.m., an hour before Boras finally spoke to the club again.

The agent said he’d been unable to stop the surgery because he had no idea it had been scheduled so early — an assertion the Mets found hard to believe, if not an outright lie.

The souring of the relationship actually began last month, when Beltran first started experiencing pain in his knee. He’d been recovering without problems in October and November before deciding to ramp up his exercise program in December.

But Beltran’s knee deteriorated to the point where running on a treadmill was becoming impossible, forcing him back to New York for an examination by Altchek. He recommended that Beltran ease off the exercise regimen and let the knee heal on its own.

But after a month of rest, Beltran was still in pain. This time he bypassed Altchek and flew to Colorado to be examined by Steadman, who recommended arthroscopic surgery.

Beltran didn’t need any further prompting and is now facing a 12-week rehab, not to mention another four weeks of delayed spring training.

Having to announce Beltran’s decision was a profound embarrassment to the Mets and their doctors, who allowed Ryan Church to board a cross-country flight in 2008 despite suffering a concussion. The following year, the Mets’ medical experts failed to act decisively after injuries to Beltran, Reyes and Johan Santana.

So what’s next? The Mets are undecided how (or if) they’ll replace Beltran before midseason, assuming he’s healed by then. But even in a best-case scenario, there’s no guarantee Beltran’s knee will be able to withstand the day to day trauma that accompanies playing in Citi Field’s cavernous outfield.

Although Ricco said, “our hope is that this (surgery) takes care of the problem,” how can the Mets be optimistic if Beltran deteriorated from merely working out?

Without him, the Mets still have a respectable but far less imposing lineup. They’ll still score some runs, thanks to Bay’s added power, but pitching is still a problem that Minaya needs to address.

So is the underlying dysfunction of an organization that’s considering suing one of its stars, and is willing to broadcast that fight in public. How much nastier can this get?

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