Their budding relationship has now taken a hard turn toward October. The Mets officially have dealt Beltran and cash to the Giants in exchange for right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler.
"This is just a situation that everyone has anticipated, whether we liked it or not," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We knew it was going to happen."
Details of the deal were first known on Wednesday. Multiple Mets officials declined comment then, and because Beltran has 24 hours to approve the deal, the trade wasn't officially announced until today.
For the Mets, the crux of the deal is Wheeler, the sixth overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Wheeler, 21, is 7-5 with 3.99 ERA for San Francisco's Class A Advanced San Jose affiliate this season, striking out 98 batters and walking 47 in 88 innings. Known for his heavy fastball, he was 3-3 with an identical ERA in his professional debut for Class A Augusta last summer. He's No. 33 on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list and immediately jumps to the top of the Mets' Top 10 Prospects list.
Rapidly falling out of contention in their own division, the Mets had incentive to trade Beltran given his impending free-agent status and the fact that his contract would have prevented them from offering him arbitration -- and thereby recouping Draft picks if he left through free agency -- after this season. Earlier this month, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson dealt closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers in a comparable move designed to give his team more flexibility this winter.
Given all that, Wednesday's deal marked an expected end to Beltran's sometimes-rocky, sometimes-successful 6 1/2-year tenure with the Mets.
After Beltran broke into baseball's spotlight by batting .435 with eight home runs in 12 postseason games for the Astros in 2004, the Mets rewarded the then-27-year-old outfielder with a seven-year, $119 million contract, which he accepted in large part for the opportunity to play with Pedro Martinez. The Mets continued to supplement budding stars Jose Reyes and David Wright with a nucleus of big-name free agents and trade acquisitions, from Beltran and Martinez to Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner.
Though Beltran struggled initially in New York, hitting .266 with 16 homers in his first season, he hit a career-best 41 home runs to lead the Mets to within a game of the World Series in 2006. Best remembered for his called strikeout to end Game 7 of the NL Championship Series, Beltran was nonetheless an integral force behind the Mets making it that far.
"Carlos Beltran did not lose us that series," Wright said Wednesday. "Carlos Beltran, if anything, kept us in that series longer than maybe we should have been."
Pacing the Mets with another strong campaign in 2007, Beltran underwent surgery to clean out debris in both knees after the season -- an operation that would prove prophetic. Struggling to keep his knees fresh, Beltran mustered an impressive statistical season in '08, before missing significant time in '09 due to injury.
Beltran then underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee without the team's permission in January 2010, knocking him out for the entire first half of the season and prompting the Mets to shift him from center field to right the following spring. He did not fully recover until this April, when he ramped his production up to a level that made him the non-waiver Trade Deadline's hottest commodity.
Now 34, Beltran has reestablished himself as one of the game's elite offensive outfielders, albeit one who remains a significant injury risk. Batting .289 with 15 homers and an NL-leading 30 doubles and starting as the designated hitter in the All-Star Game earlier this month, Beltran has said often in recent weeks that he would like to continue his career with a contender after this season.
"For me personally, it's a sad day because I love Carlos," Mets starter R.A. Dickey said. "I think he's a great teammate. I think he's a fantastic guy. And he's a valuable piece to a puzzle."
In Beltran's absence, Collins said, Lucas Duda will receive the bulk of the playing time in right field. A natural first baseman, Duda has dabbled in right field in recent seasons but has spent the bulk of his time at other positions.
"I'm probably more comfortable at first base," Duda said. "I'm probably more comfortable in left field. But I'll try my best out there and see what happens."
Said Collins: "He'd better get comfortable real fast."
Beltran, meanwhile, could slot into San Francisco's outfield in right field or center. Switching to right this spring in large part to preserve his knees, Beltran spent the first 13 years of his career in center.
"He can play center field," Collins said. "After watching him play the way he's played this year, there is no doubt in my mind. I don't know what the Giants' plans are, but if Bruce Bochy wants to call me, he can play center field."