One of the questions in a post-Pujols world was what the Cardinals would do with the $20M+ that had originally been allocated as Albert Pujols? The team provided part of that answer yesterday by signing Rafael Furcal to a 2 year, $14M deal. With some young players set to take active and prominent roles at 2B, there are a diminishing number of positions at which a reasonable free agent upgrade exists.
Carlos Beltran, however, fits that bill perfectly.
.398 * 3/12 + .332 * 4/12 + .389 * 5/12 = .369
So a .369 wOBA in something like a .322 wOBA run-environment (league average for 2009-2011: .329, .321, .316) is easily better than league average.
Over the past three seasons, the defensive metrics have begun to sour on Beltran as well. Where he was once a well above average centerfielder, last year's +/- found him to be average in RF and UZR was particularly critical of his work there. Some arbitrary correction for regression and aging can lead to a reasonable conclusion that he's a slightly below average right fielder (0 to -2.5) and below average (-5 to -10) in centerfield. A reasonable argument could certainly be made that he's better than this but we'll be conservative and stick with these assumptions.
Perhaps the most important question is how do you fit Beltran into the current team's structure with three everyday outfielders and a dedicated first baseman already on the roster. Let's try and rack up as many games for Beltran as we can.
- RF: With Craig having surgery and questionable to be ready on time, the Cardinals can hedge their bets with Beltran. Let's assume that he gets the first 15 games of the season in RF because Craig isn't fully recovered. Of the remaining 147 games, we'll allocate 10% or 16 games. That leaves Craig with 131 games in RF. Beltran gets 31 games.
- CF: Jon Jay's first season as the de facto centerfielder will be interesting. Concerns over his BABIP are realistic given his plate discipline. Assuming he hits at league average and continues to play above average defense, there's little reason to penalize him too harshly using Beltran who doesn't have the CF chops he used to. Beltran is slightly better as a right handed hitter than a left handed one but doesn't feature a large platoon split. Let's say that between days off for Jay and "hard to hit" left handed pitchers, Beltran picks up about 30% of the playing time in centerfield or about 48 games.
- LF: You want Matt Holliday in the lineup as much as possible. Over 8 seasons, he's averaged 142 games a year. We'll allocate 10% of LF appearances to Beltran for another 16 games.
- 1B: Berkman at first base won't need many days off but when he does you could move Craig to the infield and stick Beltran in RF again. We'll say that Beltran picks up another 10% of the season this way for 16 games.
- DH: The Cardinals have six away games in the AL on their schedule next year. Got to have a DH.
So assuming no massive injuries to anyone, you can easily come up with 117 games (~70% of the season) for Beltran to find playing time. My point is not to convince you that the above break down is absolutely right but merely plausible. It also provides us with a PA threshold (we'll add in 5% for pinch hitting appearances bring him up to 75% or around 500 PAs) to use in our offensive valuation calculations.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the above description is finding a way to make it palatable to Carlos Beltran who most like sees himself as an everyday player still. He may be right in that assessment. In that scenario, the question becomes does the offensive upgrade over Jay justify the downgrade on defense. Assuming a 15 run spread between the two (Jay is a +7.5 fielder and Beltran is a -7.5 fielder), Beltran would need to be about .026 pts of wOBA better on offense to compensate. If the answer to that question is yes, the decision calculus described above is moot and it is a much easier decision for the team.
Back to the original assessment where Beltran is a jack of all trades. When you tally it all up, that leaves Beltran as a +20 runs offensive player in 75% of a full season, +17.5 in replacement level value, -5 on positional adjustments and -5 on defense. Basically, he's around a 4 win player with 100% playing time and a 3 win player as utilized above.
A dollar valuation at that WAR level would be 1Y/15M or 2Y/27M. It certainly seems that estimates for his contract are coming in below that. If the Cardinals can procure his services at or below those levels, the depth that he would create throughout the outfield and the offense has to be considered. Injuries are always a concern but Carlos Beltran still has the potential to be a force for a major league team in the middle of their lineup.