2012 key player: Carlos Beltran

Former Cardinal killer, Carlos Beltran, now sets his sights on helping the Cardinals return to the playoffs in 2012. John Mozeliak has assembled two of the “Killer B’s” from the 2000s Astro’s teams that had many intriguing battles against the Cardinals not only during the regular season, but the playoffs. Beltran joins David Freese, Rafael Furcal, Adam Wainwright, and Lance Berkman in the “if he stays healthy the Cardinals could have a really good team” category. The club has accepted considerable risk in their approach to replacing Albert Pujols by having four of the eight spots in their lineup filled by players that are substantial injury risks. On the flip side, the Cardinals have assembled an incredible group of veteran players that know how to win and can still produce at a very high level. Beltran is one of those players.

On a personal note, the first time I saw Beltran play was for the Royals in 2003. I have never been as wowed by an athlete’s natural ability as I was that day as I sat in the outfield and watched Beltran cover center field with such ease. One year later, he almost single-handedly beat the Cardinals during the 2004 NLCS. During those 7 games, Beltran accumulated the following stats in only 24 at-bats: 12 runs, 4 home runs, 4 stolen bases, 5 RBIs, and a slash line of .417/ .563/ .958.

His 2004 season earned him a huge contract with the New York Mets, where he was expected to be the leading piece in a return to the World Series. From 2006-2008 Beltran had very impressive stats:

                          AB         H         HR      RBI       SB           BA           SLG%

2006             510       140       41       116      18         .275        .595

2007            554        153       33       112      23        .276        .524

2008            606       172        27       112     25        .284        .500

He was a great player four years, ago….so what? Yes, Beltran has lost a step since then, but he is still a very good baseball player. The general consensus heading into the 2012 season is the Cardinals are stronger on paper with the addition of Beltran and regaining Wainwright, than they were going into 2011 with Pujols. Even though Beltran will not be in 2004 NLCS form for 162 games this season, what can we reasonably expect from him in 2012, his age 34 season?

In 2011, Beltran reached 520 at-bats. This was a meaningful milestone following 308 ABs in 2009 and 220 in 2010. Outside of those two seasons, Beltran has remained very reasonably healthy, and takes a harder rap for health than necessarily may be deserved. Since 2001, Beltran has never once had less than 510 ABs in any season. Here is how his 2011 season broke down:

                         AB         H           HR      RBI      SB        BA           SLG%

2011              520       156        22       84        4          .300       .525

I can guarantee you Mike Matheny would take a duplication of those numbers in 2012. I’m not a big believer in spring training statistics, but I can say Beltran has looked very good so far. He is seeing pitches well, and the ball is jumping off his bat. The proposed opening day batting lineup of Furcal/Greene, Beltran, Holliday, Berkman, Freese, Molina, Jay, Furcal/Greene, is pretty solid. Matheny has a lot of options with this lineup having three of the first four lineup spots manned by switch hitters (Furcal, Beltran, Berkman).

Something else Beltran brings to the club is a strong clubhouse presence. He is not a loud or showy guy, but he is the consummate professional that goes about his business every single day, and provides a calming influence to his teammates. Mozeliak has done a good job of getting the right clubhouse mix. Lance Berkman is the joker of the bunch, but also the one to always give a straight answer and take the heat when things go wrong. Chris Carpenter (aka Darth Carp) shoots fire from his eyes and leads by example or by cussing at his teammates. Matt Holliday is becoming more and more vocal and active in mentoring young players following the departure of El Hombre out West. And Beltran brings a lot of experience to the table and a hunger to get that first World Series ring that to this point has alluded him.

You can bet he is glad to not have to be on the other side of a Wainwright curveball as he begins the journey for a ring in 2012.

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