Carlos Beltran and Gilbert Arenas are both in the news today.
Arenas will be in court later today to accept a plea bargain that in all likelihood will keep him out of jail. I’m going to refrain from saying too much about this until it actually happens because there’s no point in ripping the prosecutors for copping out until I actually know they’ve copped out.
Beltran isn’t going to court or to jail but he won’t be playing baseball for a while. He had surgery on his arthritic knee on Wednesday and is likely not to be able to resume baseball activities for at least 12 weeks. My guess is he won’t be penciled into a Major League lineup card before May. All of which means the Mets have pretty much picked up at the start of 2010 where they left off in 2009.
But I’m not writing about Beltran to rip the Mets—although they are eminently rippable. They are so incompetent that they can’t even get a player they owe $37 million to over the next two years to go and see one of their doctors before having surgery. Then they whine about it and don’t even send their general manager to talk to the media about it. Apparently after some of his bang-up performances last summer (notably in the Tony Bernazard debacle) the Mets don’t trust Omar Minaya to speak in public. Which begs the question: If you don’t trust him to run a simple press conference how can you trust him to rebuild your broken ballclub?
As I said though, that’s another issue for another day. Today is about what Beltran and Arenas have in common. Which is this: The Mets are reportedly considering the possibility of refusing to pay Beltran while he is out of the lineup because he had the surgery without their formal permission OR even going so far as to try to void his contract. The Washington Wizards are reportedly thinking about trying to void Arenas’s contract—worth another $80 million after this season is over—on the grounds that he will have pleaded guilty to a felony even if he avoids jail time.
Chances are very good the Mets will back down. Chances are decent the Wizards will back down too and see if there’s any way to trade Arenas.
The reason neither team is likely to take any seriously punitive action has little to do with the players involved. It has to do with potential future players.
It really doesn’t matter that Arenas acted like a complete bonehead in this whole thing from the moment he put the guns in his car and drove them from his home in Virginia to The Verizon Center in Washington, committing a crime the minute he crossed the bridge into D.C.
It doesn’t matter that Arenas acted as if the whole thing was a joke until he was suspended by NBA Commissioner David Stern. It doesn’t even matter that he has said when this is over everyone will owe him an apology.
The Wizards are probably going to have to rebuild their entire team—again. Arenas has to be gone one way or the other and they will try to trade Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler because both players have considerable value, especially to teams in contention. The draft only has two rounds and if you get one truly outstanding player in a draft that’s a good year. That means you have to sign free agents.
Are there some players (and coaches) who will sign with the highest bidder, regardless of who it is? Absolutely. How else can Dan Snyder, whose reputation as the worst owner in sports always precedes him, continue to sign free agent players and big name coaches? If you believe Mike Shanahan when he says he took over the Redskins because of how much he likes Snyder, I have oceanfront land in Kansas I’d like to sell you. Shanahan’s friends are the checks for $7 million a year Snyder will be writing.
But if someone else had matched that $7 million, Shanahan probably would have been very good friends with THAT owner. And the Wizards will worry that if a free agent has a choice between their organization and another that’s offering comparable money, Arenas’s name will come up. As in, “you guys are the ones that voided Gil’s contract.”
Don’t think for a second that won’t happen. Before this is over—especially if the Wizards do void the contract—Arenas is going to be the victim here. There will be apologists pointing out athletes who have done worse things (there are) and pointing out that Delonte West was acting far more reckless than Arenas last fall when he was arrested on a motorcycle on the Washington Beltway carrying guns. That’s also true. It’s also true that West has kept his mouth shut and not tried to act as if the whole thing was a joke.
Reality doesn’t matter here. Athletes live in their own reality, one in which Tiger Woods’s agent can actually send an e-mail to a New York Times reporter saying, “Give the kid a break.” The kid being a 34-year-old, billionaire father of two who has been in the public eye for 20 years and crafted an image that has been proven to be totally false.
No doubt a lot of basketball players will think the Wizards failed to give Arenas a break. The Wizards know that. They know that voiding the contract (IF their action is upheld when the players’ union contests it) will save a lot of money short term and will give them a partial escape from this disaster. But they also know that anytime a free agent doesn’t sign with them, people will wonder if Arenas was part of the reason. And if by some chance a player comes out and says, “I wouldn’t sign with Washington because of what they did to Gil,” whether what they did to Gil was fair or unfair will be a moot point.
The Mets and Beltran are different. Beltran’s never been in any trouble at all and for a lot of the last five years has been the Mets best player. And yet—he’s been hurt a lot. He also has become for many fans the symbol of their frustrations in recent years. If you are a Mets fan (which as I always confess I am…sigh) it is pretty much impossible to forget the sight of Beltran with his bat on his shoulder while strike three went past him with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of game seven of The 2006 National League Championship Series.
Beltran’s had good moments since then but the Mets collapsed in September of 2007 and 2008 and in early June in 2009. Beltran, like a lot of his teammates (Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, J.J. Puetz; even David Wright) missed large chunks of the season. Now, after saying his knee felt fine all fall, he has surgery five weeks before spring training begins.
Beltran’s agent, the lovely and talented Scott Boras, insists that the doctor who did the surgery in Denver consulted with the Mets team doctor, David Altchek and got the go-ahead to do the surgery. Then—according to Boras—after Beltran was IN surgery on Wednesday, the Mets called again to say they wanted Beltran to see their doctors. If that version proves true not only do the Mets have no case against Beltran but they have pulled yet another public relations blunder by ripping a key player who did nothing wrong.
If that’s NOT the case and Beltran did the surgery without letting the Mets know he was doing it, then the Mets do have a case—certainly in terms of not paying him until he can play again.
But don’t bet on the Mets to do any of that. More likely they will come back and say it was all a big misunderstanding and everyone loves everyone. Minaya tried to blame the Bernazard debacle on Adam Rubin of The New York Daily News. Maybe the Mets will blame Adam for this too.
But you can bet they won’t take drastic action against Beltran. They’re going to need to sign free agents to rebuild again. And, while money talks, it someone else has money that’s also talking, a “reputation,” for not taking care of your players can quickly shut your money down.
What a world. And people wonder why I hang out at Patriot League basketball games.