Jingle Beltran: St. Louis Cardinals, Free Agent Outfielder Reportedly Reach Agreement

The St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to terms with free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran, according to ace Post-Dispatch reporter Derrick Goold. The contract is reportedly for two years but the dollar amount has not been reported for a total value of approximately $26 million, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! and confirmed by Goold. Matthew Leach of stlcardinals.com notes that this is the largest contract given to a player not a product of the Cardinals organization since Jason Isringhausen in the 2001-2002 Hot Stove.

Beltran will likely fill in for the injured Allen Craig in right field for the start of the season. Upon Craig's return, it seems likely that Beltran will see more action as a center fielder. It will be interesting to see how general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny characterize how the club plans to deploy Beltran in the field. The addition of Beltran makes the Cardinals lineup all the deeper just as it likely weakens the defense. Even so, if healthy, Beltran will be a valuable contributor to the Cardinals.


To this day, when a prospect is described as a "five-tool player," the Beltran of Kansas City Royals vintage comes to my mind. He was a player who could swipe over 30 bases with an incredibly high rate of success, crack over 20 home runs, and played center field with graceful range. In 2004, Beltran was added to the Killer B's at the trade deadline. As a Cardinals fan, the move terrified me and Beltran showed why during the criminally underrated NLCS of 2004. He would post the following stat line against the Cardinals in 32 plate appearances over the epic seven-game series: 10 H, 12 R, 4 SB, 4 HR, 5 RBI, .417 BA, .563 OBP, .958 SLG, 1.521 OPS.

It is understandable then the sense of dread that gripped my gut two Octobers later when Beltran dug in against rookie closer Adam Wainwright in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS with the bases loaded and two outs. Beltran worked a full count Wainwright got up 0-2 in one of the most excrutiating at-bats I've ever witnessed. Then, Wainwright slayed the Beltran bogeyman, freezing him with the nastiest curveball I've ever seen. On that pitch, Beltran cemented his place in Cardinals playoff lore as Wainwright's trophy--a gazelle mounted on the wall of our collective memories. By signing Beltran, the Cardinals are looking for him to contribute to another chapter in the franchise's storied history, albeit in a far different role.

Beltran is older now as he enters his age 35 season. A knee surgery in January 2010 has combined with age to make him less a five-tool player who can run like a gazelle and more a wily veteran who is patient at the plate and can hit with power. Beltran returned to big-league action after his January surgery in mid-July of 2010 and played out the remainder of the season, finishing with a line of .255/.341/.427 for a wOBA of .332 in just 64 games. In 2011, further removed from surgery, he played in 142 games for the Mets and Giants. In those games he posted a line of .300/.385/.525 for a .389 wOBA. Looking back over Beltran's last several seasons, the valley of his nagging knee injury and corrective surgery is evident.

Season

Games

PA

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

2007

144

636

33

93

.276

.353

.525

.878

.375

2008

161

706

27

116

.284

.376

.500

.876

.380

2009

81

357

10

50

.325

.415

.500

.915

.398

2010

64

255

7

21

.255

.341

.427

.768

.332

2011

142

598

22

78

.300

.385

.525

.910

.389

Career

1768

7730

302

1184

.283

.361

.496

.857

.372

The projection systems that have been released to date like Beltran to put up a season about on par with his career rate stats. All of them also project him to play in fewer games than he did in 2011, which is a real possiblity. For ZiPS and CAIRO, I've used a quick back-of-the-napkin wOBA calculation to fill in that stat for our chart.

Projection

Games

HR

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

Bill James

128

20

.279

.369

.480

.849

.367

CAIRO

113

15

.281

.360

.474

.834

.368

ZiPS

107

14

.282

.363

.474

.840

.369

With the projections reflecting Beltran's likely 2012 output and his 2011 numbers representing his upside, the perhaps unanswerable question--at least until he takes the field in 2012--will be whether he can still play center field. Here are Beltran's Total Zone, UZR, and Fielding Bible defensive statistics for the last few seasons:

Year

Position

Innings

Tota Zone

UZR

UZR/150

BIS +/-

2008

CF

1407.1

13

12.4

12.1

14

2009

CF

676.0

13

-3.4

-6.0

3

2010

CF

517.2

6

-3.0

-7.5

-3

2011

RF

1153.2

-6

-7.3

-9.2

1

As you can see, it is a mixed bag. UZR did not like Beltran in right field last season at all while Total Zone and the Fielding Bible rate him better by degrees. Given the size of the data sample--one season--and the differing results, the expectations for Beltran's defense in 2012 are murky. That being said, if he is to play center field, I'd say it's a good bet that he will be below average. Beltran is no longer the elite defensive outfielder he was in his prime. Like Lance Berkman entering the 2011 season, the question at this point in Beltran's career is whether he can play defense at a level high enough to justify playing his bat in center field.

Playing right field last season, Beltran posted a 4.7-WAR season. Earlier in the week we explored how the Cardinals could buy wins and replace the departed Albert Pujols in the aggregate. The signings of Beltran and Rafael Furcal have the potential to not only replace Pujols's 2011 production but to surpass it.

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