Will the Mets stick with Carlos Beltran in center field?

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New manager Terry Collins made it clear yesterday that Carlos Beltran enter camps as the Mets’ starting center fielder, saying: “When he walks in the first day, he’s the center fielder.”

However, that comes with a significant caveat, as the plan is to evaluate Beltran’s range and surgically repaired knee before determining whether he’s a better center field option than Angel Pagan. One of them will be starting in center field and the other will be manning right field, so it’s not as much a competition as an evaluation of who offers the most range in the middle of the outfield.

Here’s more from Collins:

We’re going to sit down and feel out Carlos and make sure we come up with a game plan. But when he comes in here, if he says, “Look, I think I’m healthy enough to play center field,” then we’re going to put him out there and make an adjustment as we go.

Even without factoring in knee surgery and the time he’s missed Beltran is 33 years old and plenty of previously outstanding defensive center fielders cease being assets there at that age. Pagan is 29 and proved last season that he’s a very strong defender in center field while filling in for Beltran, with Ultimate Zone Rating pegging him as 11.8 runs above average in 792 innings.

If the Mets are looking to put their best defense on the field that likely won’t involve Beltran in center and that may also be best for his chances of staying healthy.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.