Saturday, December 7, 2013

Did the Yankees make a mistake in signing Carlos Beltran?

.290, 75+ HR, Age 37-39 (since 1900)
Babe Ruth (1932-34)
Ted Williams (1956-58)
Hank Aaron (1971-73)
Edgar Martinez (2000-2002)
Barry Bonds (2002-2004)
Moises Alou (2004-2006)

Carlos Beltran has reportedly agreed to join the Yankees for 3 years and 45 million dollars.  The deal makes sense on the surface because the Yankees are on a spending spree and he's one of the best free agents on the market.  They can get him without tying up payroll for a long time unlike some of the younger free agents out there.  He's also a great postseason performer and the Yankees won't be happy to just get back to the postseason. 

The Yankees might be thinking that he won't perform all that well in the third year of the contract, but that they had to throw it in to get him signed.  Still, it would be reasonable to assume that they would expect Beltran to hit at least 75 home runs and hit at least .290 over the next 3 years considering the 45 million they're paying him.  He might do that, but it has only been done 6 times in major league history.  

Now, Beltran is a great player who has held up pretty well as he's aged.  That's not to say that he hasn't regressed and won't continue to over the next 3 years.  His OPS has gone from .910 to .842 to .830 since 2011.  Maybe the Yankees think it will go back up playing at Yankees Stadium, but that is a concern. 

Unless he gets a lot of big postseason hits, the Yankees might not be too thrilled if he OPS continues to go down each year.  You have to wonder how much of the value of the contract is from the fact that he is known to be clutch, particularly in the postseason.  He used to steal a decent number of bases as well, with 25 at least recently as 2008.  He actually stole 13 bags in 2012, but only has 2 stolen bases all of last year.

Even his postseason numbers need to be examined closely because he has achieved almost legendary status.  He has been a very good postseason performer, but a lot of the perception could be still based on his epic performance in 2004, when he hit .434 with 8 HR in the NLDS and NLCS for the Astros.  He was 27 years old in 2004, which makes it risky to let that factor into this current contract.

2004 postseason: .424 BA, 8 HR, 46 AB
2006-2013 postseason: .298 BA, 8 HR, 134 AB

He's been very good in the postseason since 2004, although probably not enough to justify his status as a dominant postseason performer since then (watching the final strike go by in 2006 doesn't help either).  In the 2013 postseason, he hit .267 with 2 HR in 58 AB.  Would that satisfy Yankee fans, especially if they didn't win the World Series?  I would guess not.

This could all work out and it is a lot different to evaluate a contract handed out by the Yankees than almost any other team.  The Yankees, though, aren't as immune to payroll pressures as they were in the past, and paying an aging star $15 million to be an average player would hurt them.  Beltran could defy the odds and hit 30 HR a season, but it isn't the most likely outcome.

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