Scouting The Free Agent Market: Carlos BeltranBy
On paper, the Yankees currently have four outfielders for three spots. In reality, they have two outfielders for three spots. Both Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells took advantage of the opportunity to show they are no longer everyday Major League players this past season and New York will spend a chunk of the winter looking for an upgrade, especially now that Curtis Granderson has declined the qualifying offer.
The Yankees have already been connected to Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, the offseason’s two best free agent outfielders, and they also have interest in the veteran Carlos Beltran. That interest in expected to be mutual, unsurprisingly. Beltran has shown an eagerness to play for Bombers in the past, most notably offering to sign with them at a discount prior to 2005. He also came to the team at the last minute and gave them an opportunity to match the deal he eventually took from the Cardinals prior to 2012. I thought Beltran was a perfect fit before 2005 but not so much before 2012. What about now? Let’s break his game down.
- Despite his age, Beltran remains an effective hitter from both sides of the plate. He hit .296/.339/.491 (132 wRC+) overall this past season, broken down into a 144 wRC+ against righties and a 102 wRC+ against lefties. Over the last three seasons, it’s .288/.356/.503 (137 wRC+) overall and a 140 wRC+ against righties compared to a 128 wRC+ against southpaws. His overall strikeout (16.6% since 2011) and walk (9.6%) rates are both better than average as well.
- Beltran has answered some serious questions about his durability in recent years, playing in 140+ games in each of the last three seasons and 438 of 486 games overall since 2011. That includes the last two in the DH-less NL. He’s recovered well after only playing 145 of 324 possible games from 2009-2010.
- As you surely know, Beltran is arguably the best postseason hitter of his generation. He’s a career .333/.445/.683 (196 wRC+) hitter with 16 homers in 219 plate appearances across 51 playoff games. In October, Beltran is basically Babe Ruth (career 197 wRC+). That’ll be helpful if New York gets back to the postseason.
- Beltran’s walk rate (6.3%) this year was his lowest since his rookie season by a decent margin. He swung at 31.0% of pitches out of the zone, a career-high since the data started being recorded in 2007. Beltran’s out-of-zone swing rate has actually increased every year since 2009. He’s trending the wrong way and, not coincidentally, is at an age when hitters start their swing earlier to compensate for lost bat speed.
- Once a historically great base-runner, Beltran is no longer a threat to steal bases and he’s only league average when it comes to taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.). Once upon a time he was a lock for 30+ steals a year, but that part of his game is long gone.
- Beltran’s defense has slipped as well. His reads off the bat are still good but his range and arm have really declined. His defensive numbers since moving to right field full-time in 2011 are pretty bad: -2 DRS, -20.1 UZR, -7.1 FRAA, and -22 Total Zone.
- He has stayed healthy these last three years, but Beltran had major knee right knee surgery in 2010 — he actually had an arthroscopic procedure instead of microfracture surgery against the Mets’ wishes — and still deals with regular soreness. Beltran has been on the DL once in the last three years but day-to-day ailments are fairly common.
- Beltran declined the qualifying offer prior to Monday’s deadline, so teams will have to forfeit a high draft pick to sign him. For the Yankees, that means surrendering the 18th overall selection.
According to Tim Brown, Beltran is seeking a three or four-year contract this winter and that’s just not happening. It shouldn’t, anyway, especially from the Yankees. He’ll turn 37 soon after Opening Day and he’s got a bad knee. It’s not a matter of if he’ll become a full-time DH, but when. It could easily be this season. I was thinking more along the lines of two years and $30M, a $2M per year raise over the contract he signed with the Cardinals to essentially account for market inflation. Teams have lots of money to spend and he has no reason to settle for one year.
The drop in walk rate — it’s worth noting Beltran’s strikeout rate did not increase at all this year — is a concern to me only because it might mean his bat speed is really starting to slip. The now poor defense and general age-related concerns are another red flag, plus giving up a high draft pick would stink. Beltran is, however, a big upgrade over the team’s current right field options and his switch-hitting power bat would fit perfectly into the middle of the Yankees lineup. The question is whether he wants to come to the Bronx at this point. I’m guessing one of Beltran’s top priorities this winter is joining a team that gives him a strong chance to win a World Series and he simply might not believe New York can give him that opportunity. He’d be a solid pickup on a two-year contract but Beltran’s demands might throw a wrench into things.