2012 Preview: Right Fielder

Right field. It’s a position that many expected to be handed to Allen Craig after his outstanding 2011 season coming off the bench and providing crucial hits for the Cardinals in the World Series. Not so fast though. With Craig potentially spending time on the disabled list to start the season, the Cardinals went big and signed Carlos Beltran to a two year contract.

Last year Lance Berkman primarily played the position. He played it quite well too, posting what was the best season of his career by OPS+. He made the All Star team and finished 7th in National League MVP voting (Personally, I felt he should have won the award). He surprised as many feared he couldn’t handle the outfield anymore. However his influence, in my opinion, had a great deal to do with the Cardinals putting the run together that they did.

Allen Craig broke out as the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder last season too, putting up MVP quality numbers over his 200 at bats. Good enough that if you extrapolate his WAR out to a 600 at bat season, he led the league. Not too shabby. However, a June collision with an outfield wall in Houston put a big gap in his season and led to offseason surgery which could delay the start to his 2012 season. It was enough of a question that the Cardinals seized the opportunity to make a big move to show fans that they weren’t just going to stand pat after parting ways with Albert Pujols.

On December 22, 2011, it was announced that Carlos Beltran had agreed to a two year, $26 million contract that included a no trade clause. It was a bit of a premium for the 34 year old, but the Cardinals wanted to retain flexibility and was able to get him to accept just two years instead of three.

Beltran had a very good 2011 season as well. At the beginning of the season the New York Mets chose to move him to right field in the hopes that it would keep him healthier than if he were patrolling center field on an everyday basis. It may have worked. He played well enough before the trade deadline to interest the San Francisco Giants to trade for him down the stretch to add a bat to their lineup.

Between the Mets and the Giants, Beltran hit .300/.385/.551. His 156 OPS+ was the highest of his career. After the season, the Giants declined his option and decided he was too expensive for them, letting him hit free agency. A handful of teams pursued him, but it was the Cardinals that got the final okay.

Now. I have serious questions about Beltran. He has spent time on the DL in each of the last three years and spend significant time on it in 2009 and 2010, missing more than half of those seasons. Can he stay healthy? If he can, no doubt he should be a productive piece for the Cardinals.

If he is healthy, I expect him to hit .280/.370/.525, which will be great for the Cardinals. He is expected to hit second, which, if he is healthy and performing and so is Matt Holliday in the #3 spot, will be killer to have both of those guys coming up to bat in the first inning of baseball games.

The biggest question I have about him and really about Rafael Furcal is will Mike Matheny have the clout in the locker room to drop them in the lineup or even remove them from it, if they are struggling badly? Or will the veterans get run out there day after day getting outs while younger guys can play better?

That will be a question. I hope we don’t have to find an answer.

I’m not going to add an “On the bench” and “On the farm” section for this position. If you are interested you can read the center field and left field sections as they basically say the same thing.