Holiday Mailbag: Carlos Beltran

Crasnick: Yankees touched base with Bronson Arroyo last week
Former Yankee Mike Hegan passes away at 71
(David E. Klutho/SI)
(David E. Klutho/SI)

Mason asks: Watching the press conference I couldn’t help but wonder what the Yankees’ postseason history would look like had they signed Carlos Beltran back when he was a free agent coming from the Astros. It just seems inconceivable looking back that they wouldn’t have brought him on. What changes if he is brought on in that offseason?

I’ve said this more than once and I still think it’s true: passing on Beltran during the 2004-2005 offseason was the team’s biggest mistake during the Brian Cashman era. I thought it was a no-brainer. Beltran was only 27 at the time and he was a 30/30-ish switch-hitter who got on base a ton and played very good defense in center. Bernie Williams was pretty much done and the team had no obvious long-term center field solution. He was perfect. The Yankees didn’t sign Beltran that winter and instead spent their money on Randy Johnson, which was justifiable. Starting pitching was a huge need as well.

Anyway, it’s impossible to say how things would have played out had they acquired Beltran instead of Johnson that winter, so this is nothing more than guesswork. The Yankees went to the postseason six times and won a World Series during the span of Beltran’s seven-year contract with the Mets and it’s not a guarantee he would have made things better. Remember, they were bounced from the postseason in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010 largely because the pitching stunk. The hitting was a problem in 2011 and maybe having him would have helped them beat the Tigers in the ALDS. Otherwise the pitching was never good enough for one big bat to make a real difference.

Had the Yankees signed Beltran back in the day, I’m pretty sure they would not have signed Johnny Damon the following the winter. Damon was very good in New York but Beltran greatly outproduced him from 2006-2009 (135 wRC+ and 22.9 fWAR vs. 116 wRC+ and 12.7 fWAR). I do think they would have still re-signed Hideki Matsui that winter since he was a True Yankee™ and the difference in annual salary between Damon and Beltran was only $4M. Not enough to throw a wrench into future deals.

Is the Bobby Abreu trade still made with Beltran? Probably, since both Matsui and Gary Sheffield were hurt. Damon was both healthy and productive in 2006. I don’t think having Beltran would have changed Melky Cabrera‘s career path all that much aside from not getting the ill-advised call-up in 2005. There still would have been plenty of opportunity for him in 2006, which is when he played his way into a regular job (98 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR, which he never repeated in New York). I don’t think the outfield picture would have looked radically different from 2005-2008, it just would have been Beltran in center and Melky in left instead of Melky in center and Damon in left.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The 2009 season is where this hypothetical gets interesting. Beltran’s knees started to give out that year and he missed close to three months in the middle of the season. He was healthy when September rolled around though, so the Yankees would have had him for their playoff push. That team was so good that I don’t think losing Beltran for three months would have derailed them. They won the division by eight games, though they were four back on the day he got hurt (June 21st). Maybe that leads to Cashman making a deal at the deadline. Matt Holliday was the big name outfielder traded that summer, but lesser guys like Nate McLouth, Mark DeRosa, and Scott Hairston were also dealt. A trade for one of those guys would have changed things quite a bit both that year and in future years depending on the trade package.

Beltran missed most of 2010 with knee problems but was healthy for the second half and a potential playoff drive. The Yankees made the postseason by seven games that year, so losing him wouldn’t have been a season-killer. Beltran was no longer a superstar at that time anyway. Going from him to say, McLouth for three months would have been a two or three win drop. That assumes McLouth would have been as terrible in New York as he was in Atlanta. The Rangers outscored the Yankees 38-19 in the ALCS that year and I doubt Beltran makes much of a difference. He was healthy in 2011 and could have made a difference in the ALDS, when New York lost three games to the Tigers by a total of four runs. Would that 2011 squad have beaten the Rangers in the ALCS or the Cardinals in the World Series? I don’t think so. Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia were the number two and three starters, remember.

Like I said earlier, this is all just guesswork. Beltran’s career path would have changed completely had he signed with the Yankees back in the day — maybe he would have avoided the knee problems all together or maybe he would have been hurt even more. Maybe the team signs Damon and lets Matsui walk instead. Maybe they can’t afford to trade for Abreu in 2006. Who knows? I thought the Yankees should have signed Beltran back in the day (especially after he offered to take a discount, geez) but I don’t think we can simply assume the club would have been better off from 2005-2011 just because he was on the team. Way too many variables in play.

Crasnick: Yankees touched base with Bronson Arroyo last week
Former Yankee Mike Hegan passes away at 71
  • Steve (different one)

    I’m confused. This article implies the Yankees allowed a budgetary constraint to keep them from signing a star player. Yet George was clearly alive and heavily involved in 2005.

    Please explain.

    • Fat Kitty Toad

      It was less the budget, more the need. The Yankees of 2004 scored 900 runs, but they gave up 800. Their rotation after Mussina (98 ERA+) was Vazquez, Brown, Lieber, Contreras, and a 50 year old El Duque.

      They needed pitching more so than hitting. Bernie should not have been a CF in 2005 but he was signed for that year and they had Sheffield and Matsui in the corners.

    • mike

      Because there was no way Bernie Williams was going to the bench as the 4th OF/ back up 1B (remember he didn’t even “retire” for a few years, so pushing him out of the way would have been impossible), and he couldn’t DH because Giambi was breaking down when playing the field, so since their offense was fine and their need was pitching (since Leiber, Vasquez and a washed-up Duqe were goners), the Yanks focused on their rotation ( hence RJ, Pavano and Wright).

      additionally, besides that monster playoff series, Beltran wasn’t thought of a stud, but as a Johnny Damon-type with a little more pop and defense, but not the same plate discipline or presence on bases and as a really good complimentary player who may wilt under the big-lights. he was asking for alot of money, and with the complications above it was a logical move.

      I still wanted him as a fan, but Bernie/Torre would have been a big mountain to move

    • Mr. Roth

      At the time, it really seemed like Beltran’s contract demands were almost entirely fueled by that monster postseason. Hindsight is 20:20, and considering how Randy Johnson’s tenure went, it would sure have been awesome if we signed him the first time around.

  • Fat Kitty Toad

    Really, the biggest mistake? Bigger than Pavano or Igawa or A-Rod2 or Vazquez (x2) or passing on Darvish? Or going into 2012-13 with a budget for 2014?

    Your analysis would seem to suggest it wouldn’t have made much of a difference, so hard for me to see the mistake.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have seen Beltran in his prime.

    • Slugger27

      i agree with you. dont think it was wise to pass up on that kind of player, but theres no way not signing him was worse than the arod contract. its not even close.

    • radnom

      Arod2 is the winner, no question.

      After that, my vote is Igawa.

      26MM posting, 40MM contract when they didn’t even know his pitch repertoire.
      Complete zero in terms of production.

      Partly as a result, the team has been a total non-factor in the big name international market ever since, not even taking a serious pass at most of the real talent that has come through in the 7 years since. Especially Darvish.

      • BFDeal

        Igawa had a 5/$20M contract on top of the posting fee; not $40M. But your point still stands.

  • Farewell Mo

    Interesting take by Joel Sherman where he wrote the Yankees passed on signing Beltran to a 2 year contract in 2011 when he was 35 because they were concerned about his injuries and age but now gave him a 3 year deal when he’s 37.

    • Ben

      After 2011 he came off two injury filled seasons withe serious concern after his knee issues. He has proven since that that’s behind him. Also do people forget all his issues with the mets about hiding his injuries etc., i think his stock is actually higher now than it was then.

      • Farewell Mo

        Maybe so however if the Yankees got 2 solid years out of him, I’d be thrilled.

        I think it’s more likely than not that they’re gonna get pennies on the dollar for the $15 million in 2016.

      • RetroRob


  • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

    I always thought not signing Matt Holliday was the one that got away. Feels like our entire OF situation over the last several years would’ve been much more stable and productive.

    • Jersey Joe

      I don’t know about that. Having Granderson-Gardner-Swisher for 3 years was quite productive.

      • Scully

        I agree with you. Even this coming year, a healthy season of Gardner – Ellsbury – Beltran/Soriano could look very similar and very good.

  • Aronnius Gold

    Beltran would have come at a discount. A variable not touched on is how much playing CF in Citifield probably killed his knees. He probably would have rated as a better defender in Yankee Stadium. It’s a pretty big mistake that’s up there with Darvish. Yea pitching was a need but it’s amazing how they couldn’t Multi-task the two. It’s not like the Randy Johnson trade ended up being this complex thing that precluded them from going to the negotiating table.

  • EndlessJose

    I think we would have gone further in playoffs from 2005 to 2008 but in 2010-2012 is when our pitching was good but the hitting wasn’t on par so we win another world series with Beltran.

    Think Nick Swisher but can hit in the World Series.

  • RetroRob

    #George failed! It was George’s decision, which is no doubt what Steve is referring to above with a touch of deserved sarcasm.

    Having a dominant pitcher was the clear need after the 2004 postseason, so they went after Johnson. Unfortunately, he hit his decline that year. All of this we know. Yet he also went 5-0 against the Red Sox. Without him, the Red Sox almost assuredly win the division outright, and it’s possible the Yankees don’t make the playoffs at all, or perhaps end up in a tie with the Indians. That would have set off a reshuffling of the entire postseason matchups with or without the Yankees. Maybe we end up watching the Red Sox go on to win back-to-back titles. Gasp!

    The real question is why didn’t George sign both Beltran and Johnson. It didn’t need to be an either-or scenario. Yet I think that was the first sign the new luxury tax was having an impact. The Yankees were about to have their second straight season of paying the luxury tax, and indeed in 2005 they would set a record for luxury tax payments (nearly $35M) that has yet to be exceeded almost a decade later. The prospects of adding Beltran would have pushed their payments north of $40M. So we’re seeing the very first signs of the luxury tax actually impacting Yankee spending. The Yankees have lived above the luxury tax threshold its entire existence, but they’ve never achieved escape velocity. Based on their spending a decade back and the rapid increase in revenues, the Yankees payroll should now be north of $300M. It’s not because of the luxury tax.

  • VoiceofReason

    Not signing Beltran was Cashman’s biggest mistake? How about not building any sort of farm system for a decade plus?

    • Jersey Joe

      I think Mike would say that it was the biggest thing he missed out on; the only sin of omission.

    • LitFig

      Cano, Robertson, Gardner, Melky, Kennedy, Jackson, Montero, McCallister ALL wave at you.

      • JobaWockeeZ


        Regardless not building a farm isn’t a fucking decision, it’s years of failure. For one single decision which Mike is talking about, then yes not signing Beltran twice is up there.

  • Michael Kay

    What about the phallacy of the pre-determined outcome.

  • Darren

    Not to be overly sensitive, but really? You respond to a post about the death of an ex-Yankee with “Never heard of him” and then go on to post a comment with not just two innacuracies, but one major case of hyperbole. There’s a full Tanaka thread going if you want to post your blather there, plus an open thread.

    Condolences to any of Mike Hegan’s family, not just on his death, but if you happen to stumble across this kind of inane response.

    • Darren

      Reply fail. Meant to go on Mike Hegan thread.

    • RetroRob

      He’s just a troll and should be treated as such.

      • Darren

        Got it, thank you.