When a player signs for $26M over two years for his age 35 and 36 seasons, one wouldn’t expect him to obtain a larger contract at its expiry. Yet, this is precisely what happened to Carlos Beltran, who received a three year, $45M contract from the Yankees not long after word broke that Robinson Cano jetted to the Mariners. It’s a match that has seemed destined to happen for years, but probably at this point, nearly a decade too late. This isn’t to say Beltran is a bad player – he’s not. He can still hit, but there are flaws in his game that have come with age. The Yankees are taking a gamble on him defying the odds, paying him a cool $15M per year through his age 39 season.
Beltran was bought for his offense, to help fill the void that Cano has now left in the heart of the lineup. He hit .296/.339/.491 with 24 home runs in 600 plate appearances for the National League champion Cardinals, good for a 132 wRC+. That type of production would certainly ease the loss of Cano, albeit at a position that demands much more offensive output than second base.
At his age, a dropoff offensively is to be expected, which is reflected across some of the early projection systems such as ZiPS and Steamer. My greatest concern with Beltran’s approach is his patience at the plate: he posted his first walk rate below 10.5% since 2005, notching a below average 6.3% mark. The projections forecast a bounce back, much in thanks to his career mark of 10.4%, but it’s always worrisome when an older hitter’s patience worsens. PITCHf/x shows that he’s been hacking more often at pitches out of the strike zone than ever before. Is he not seeing the ball as well as before? Is he starting his bat sooner? These are legitimate worries going forward, that probably won’t get better.
Beltran’s knee woes have made him go from a plus defender back in his heyday, to a decidedly below average one today. In addition, the days of him being a threat on the basepaths are long gone. Yet, for all the talk of his knees destined to fall apart, he’s managed to play in 142, 151, and 145 games the past three years. Now in the American League, the DH spot may make it easier for him to stay in the lineup. He’ll have to share time rotating at the position, as others like Soriano, Derek Jeter, and Brian McCann are sure to spend some time there. Having a “half-day” off from time to time should help, but there are no guarantees with any 37 year old.
Many fans will be thrilled to add a player who’s thrived in the postseason in the manner that Beltran has. There isn’t much predictive value in postseason performance, as we’ve seen some of the best players in the world be invisible, while some scrubs deliver in the spotlight. The most important thing is getting to the postseason – a team can’t win the World Series without doing so – and Beltran will help in that respect. Hopefully, he can deliver a legendary October performance in pinstripes, but this team is still working on getting back to postseason play.
Next season, the consensus of the projection systems is that Beltran will be a 2 WAR player. As I’ve done in previous free agent signing analyses, if we deduct 0.5 WAR each year, he’ll accumulate 4.5 WAR over the life of his deal. At $6M per win, we’re talking about an $18M pitfall from his $45M contract. Again, as discussed in other transaction write-ups, the value for each additional win to the Yankees’ is higher than most. But even so, this still looks like an overpay. A repeat, or even a slight raise upon his previous two-year, $26M deal would have been logical. The Fangraphs crowd thought the same. Instead, the market played in Beltran’s favor.
I don’t like the contract, but Beltran is a nice boost to the Yankees’ lineup that needed one after Cano’s departure. At the position, I think Shin-Soo Choo might have been a better fit, but perhaps the Yankees were willing to overpay Beltran to avoid locking another player into a long-term contract. The club still has more pressing needs in the infield, that are certain to be addressed soon. There’s probably no bat to be had of the caliber of Beltran at second or third base in this market, making him the best indirect route to replacing Cano’s production. Hopefully he can stay healthy, although I can see the final year of the deal being pretty ugly.
Photo by djprybyl on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons