With Angel Pagan's contract situation settled to the tune of a one year, $3.5 million deal, its time to turn our attention back to how he's going to fit into the on-field plans of the Mets in the coming season. Heading into the 2010 season, he was expected be the fourth outfielder and compete for playing time in right field with Jeff Francoeur; however, the ill scheduled surgery of Carlos Beltran and the ineptitude of Gary Matthews, Jr., thrust him into the everyday lineup early in the season, and he responded in a big way, batting a team high .290 and patrolling centerfield well enough to make people not miss Beltran's defense as much as was expected. He made great strides in his ability to intelligently run the base paths, and the mental mistakes which were a hallmark of the early part of his career seem to be well behind him.
Pagan played so well that as we get closer to Spring Training, he's created a bit of a sticky situation. Beltran prefers playing center to the other two outfield positions, and is certainly the more high profile of the two players, but his surgically repaired knee was still not a hundred percent at the end of last season and the additional wear and tear of the position can only serve to shorten the time he spends on the field. Pagan has younger, healthier legs, and has proven capable of manning center. It would greatly behoove the Mets to utilize his services and keep Beltran's potent bat in the lineup for as many at bat's as possible.
This could very well be the first problem Terry Collins has to address as he starts his new job, and it should prove tricky. Convincing a veteran player to change positions to make way for a younger player is never easy, never mind one with Beltran's resume. A poor reaction by Beltran could start the season with a pall hanging over the clubhouse and could make an already sour player downright disgruntled. A failure to make the change at all would signal a lack of control and authority for a new manager and give a sense of "same old Mets" to an extremely downtrodden fan base.
Reducing the mileage on Beltran's legs and keeping him in the lineup will be key to any plans the Mets have of truly competing this season, so it is imperative that he be moved to right field. A situation this difficult is a tough early test to judge Collins by, but his handling of it will likely play a very large role in how the season goes. Hopefully, he will have the authority and the ability to make this decision in a way that keeps both Pagan and Beltran happy but still puts the team on the field with its best shot at winning.