A few years ago, the Royals wouldn’t think about going after one of the top free agent sluggers in baseball. But after a 86-76 season and developing a core of good, young players, the Royals have Carlos Beltran on their offseason wish list. It’s been reported Beltran is open to rejoining the Royals after a 10 year absence and he recently met with General Manager Dayton Moore and other club officials.
Beltran wants a three year deal and the Royals are willing to go for three years. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are interested, but they want a two year deal. It’s reported a team offered Beltran three years and $48 million. Some say the offer came from the Seattle Mariners, and some say it was from the Royals.
If that offer was from the Royals, would signing a 36 year old slugger who spent the last 10 years in the National League for three years and $48 million be a good idea? Even for someone like Carlos Beltran?
Beltran began his Major League career with the Royals from 1998-2004. He won American League Rookie of the Year in 1999 and compiled a .287/.352/.483 average with 516 RBI and 123 home runs over 795 games. When the Royals 2004 season fell apart, they traded Beltran mid season to the Houston Astros because they couldn’t afford him.
Beltran played the rest of 2004 with the Astros, then from 2005-2011 with the New York Mets. When the Mets were going nowhere during the 2011 season, they traded Beltran to the San Francisco Giants. In 2012, Beltran signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, playing two seasons. While in the National League, Beltran compiled a .281/.363/.504 average with 811 RBI and 235 home runs over 1,269 games.
With a career .283/.359/.496 average with 1,327 RBI and 358 home runs over 1,327 games, he’s still a positive impact player, even at 36. But can he keep producing the numbers he’s compiled over his career?
It’s known Beltran has a history with knee injuries. But since 2011, he played 142 games in 2011, 151 games in 2012 and 145 games in 2013. And this is in the National League with no DH and playing right field. And from age 34-36, he’s been durable the last three seasons.
Of course that doesn’t mean he’s going to stay healthy. Even going to an American League team where he could play some DH, Beltran could still break down, especially as he approaches 40. And with Beltran wanting three years, there’s a good chance the third year could be a bust. And for that reason, teams like the Yankees and Red Sox want to sign him for two years.
There’s no doubt Beltran is an impact player whose offense the Royals desperately need. Putting Beltran behind Eric Hosmer in the lineup would protect Hosmer and give the Royals offensive credibility. While some don’t agree, having a veteran player like Beltran with playoff experience on a young team like the Royals wouldn’t hurt. And it would be the feel-good story of 2014 if a former Royals favorite came back to help the team make the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
If the Royals did sign Beltran to a three-year, $48 million contract, they’ll have to raise their payroll or make some cost-cutting moves. One cost-cutting move being talked about is trading Billy Butler and using the savings to help pay for Beltran. Butler is 27 and Beltran is 36, so with Butler being younger, that should be an advantage, right?
If you compare the last two seasons of Butler and Beltran, Butler had a .301/.373/.462 average with 189 RBI and 44 home runs over 323 games. Beltran had a .282/.343/.493 average with 181 RBI and 56 home runs over 296 games. They have similar stats, but Beltran played the majority of games in right field where Butler played most games as a DH. As a defensive asset, Beltran is superior since he can play right field (a Royals weak spot) and can DH from time to time. And Beltran is more likely to hit more home runs than Butler.
That’s not to say Beltran is the answer. There’s a risk signing Beltran, especially to a three-year contract. His health could break down and it might take him a while to get acclimated to the American League. And if Butler had to be traded to make room for Beltran, the Royals give up known good offense to gain two or three years of maybe better offense. And Beltran’s contract could hamstring the team from acquiring other needed players if owner David Glass isn’t willing to raise payroll.
This could all be moot if the Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners or another team offer him a three year deal and more money than the Royals are willing to offer. If that happens, they’ll still have Butler and they could trade or sign for a right fielder, or they could stay with David Lough and Justin Maxwell. But Carlos Beltran would be an upgrade.
If the Royals sign Beltran and he plays like he did with the Cardinals, then he’s worth the risk, especially if the Royals make the playoffs. But if Beltran is a bust, it could set the team back a few years. It’s a risk, but if the Royals can sign Beltran, it’s a risk they should be willing to take.