Beltran’s final season as a player was in 2017, as the primary designated hitter of the Astros. He hit just .231/.283/.383 with 14 home runs and was below replacement level, but he was useful to the team in the many ways veterans are: leadership, mentorship, and one big other thing.
“Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltrán, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter.”
That was a line from Major League Baseball’s report on Monday detailing the league’s investigation into and punishment of the Astros, from commissioner Rob Manfred. While it’s rather innocuous on its own, this sentence is the only time an Astros player was mentioned in the report.
No Astros players at all were punished by MLB, though the report was very clear to point out this was a player-driven electronic sign-stealing scheme, along with then-bench coach Alex Cora. Manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow each were suspended by MLB for the 2020 season, then fired by the Astros. Cora, who hasn’t yet been suspended by MLB but only because the league is still investigating allegations his 2018 Red Sox, was fired by Boston on Tuesday. Their baseball crimes, regarding the Astros, were allowing such malfeasance to happen on their watch, and in Cora’s case being an active participant in the scheme.
Their punishment was swift, and severe, with their reputations tarnished forever. And while no players took the fall for this — likely because that was one way to get 23 current and former Astros to cooperate on record with MLB’s investigation — Beltran getting named in the report was a loud signal clear as day that he was an integral part of the scheme.
The Mets, who hired Beltran as their manager on Nov. 4, fired him on Thursday. The press release and comments from the team said his departure was mutually agreed upon, but come on. David Lennon of Newsday reported that Beltran was fighting to keep his job, which hardly feels like a mutual decision.
It doesn’t really matter how Beltran was dismissed, the first MLB manager to be fired before managing a game since Wally Backman in 2004, when previous arrests for domestic violence and driving under the influence arose after the Diamondbacks hired him. What matters is that Beltran is gone, and in the most Mets way possible.
In Thursday’s press conference, it became clear the Mets were blindsided by Monday’s report from MLB.
“We heard from sources — commissioner’s office, etc. — that Carlos was not going to be suspended, owner Jeff Wilpon said. “I think the change was, when the report did come out, how prominent he was in it.”
The Mets hired Beltran on Nov. 4. The initial reporting on the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scheme from Even Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the one that spurred MLB to thoroughly investigate, came out on Nov. 12. One day later, that pair connected Hinch, Cora, and more importantly to the Mets, Beltran, to the scheme.
Yet, somehow the Mets didn’t even ask Beltran about this at all.
“We all were surprised,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen told reporters Thursday. “I did not see, nor did anyone in the Mets organization have any knowledge that this situation happen in 2017 or that there was the potential for this information becoming public. We had no knowledge.”
This fits a pattern for the Mets, dating back to even before Beltran was hired. From Tim Healey at Newsday:
The Mets also claimed ignorance about this issue when they hired Beltran on Nov. 1. Despite a sense of public and private paranoia that has followed Houston in recent years and although Van Wagenen is very close with suspended/fired Astros manager AJ Hinch, his former Stanford teammate, Van Wagenen said Thursday that he did not hear any “rumblings” of sketchy Astros behavior during the team’s month-long search for a manager.
It’s stunning that the question wasn’t even asked.
Beltran was renowned during his playing days for his excellent perception, long before electronics entered the fray. He was able to detect other teams’ machinations with keen senses and unimpeachable baseball acumen. But the Mets as an organization don’t share this perception, and didn’t see Thursday’s inevitable result coming until it was obvious.
The frustrating thing about this for the Mets is they are actually pretty good. There are lots of reasons to be excited about the roster, and there was definitely buzz around Beltran joining the team.
But now the Mets are collateral damage, shrapnel from a two-year-old Astros sign-stealing scheme. To make matters worse, the Mets need to now find a manager less than a month before spring training starts, and they have competition in that market from the Astros and Red Sox, also rudderless thanks to the fallout of this week and one of the biggest scandals ever to rock the sport.