Is it Christmas come early for Cardinals fans? John Mozeliak delivered a two-year, $26 million contract for outfielder Carlos Beltran on Thursday night. The deal was announced by the team as pending a physical. The deal also includes a full no trade clause, likely a concessions for a two year deal instead of a three year contract like Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham both received.
Beltran has been in high demand since the Winter Meetings in Dallas. He reportedly received offers from the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Indians, Red Sox, and the Rockies kicked the tires before signing Cuddyer. According to a few baseball writers, the Cardinals kicked their negotiations into high gear on Wednesday.
Beltran, 34, has great potential to be an asset to the Cardinals. In 142 games last year between the Mets and the Giants, Beltran hit .300 with a .385 OBP, and a .525 SLG. On top of that, he added 22 home runs and 39 doubles. If you look at his 152 OPS+, which factors in park and league factors, it was the best season of his career.
However, he did spend a short time on the 15 day DL last season and has missed significant time in 2009 and 2010. That leads to my biggest concern, his durability. The Cardinals have gambled $19 million ($13 for Beltran, $7 for Rafael Furcal) in each of the next two seasons on these guys being healthy, but both have been injury prone. Add on to that, that Beltran is coming off of arguably his best season at the age of 34, the odds of him repeating or getting close to those numbers again are very slim.
How exactly Beltran figures to be used by the Cardinals is the big question. Will he get most of his playing time in right field, displacing or Allen Craig? Or will he get an opportunity to prove himself in center field and displace Jon Jay? With Craig’s recent knee surgery, he will be missing time this season, so the opening day outfield will likely be Holliday-Jay-Beltran.
Another question is where will he hit in the lineup. He could realistically end up anywhere between 2 and 5 in the Cardinals lineup depending on how new manager Mike Matheny puts his lineups together.
Additionally, I hate blocking Craig like they are. There is the potential that he can slide to first base (or left field with Holliday making the move to first) in 2013, but to me, Allen Craig’s 2011 season deserved a larger role this season and he won’t get it. I can’t see Beltran playing center field regularly enough for it and when Beltran is the second highest paid player on your baseball team, you can’t justify sitting him very often. An outfielder signing this season needed to be nothing more than a band-aid. You don’t wear a band-aid for two years, you only wear it as long as you need it.
If Beltran remains healthy, if Beltran remains productive, if Beltran can still occasionally play center field, then this is a good deal for the Cardinals. But it’s too many “if”s for me to feel comfortable with the move.