The tortured artist never leaves his muse, and it is for that reason that I am returning to my award-winning series, What Are They Worth?, an examination of the top free agents and their contract situation going forward. Having completed examinations of the top five, I'd like to take a look at one of the more interesting cases on the market this winter: that of Carlos Beltran.
Remember when you thought Carlos Beltran was a future Hall of Famer? Me neither. But, we are all aware that he was, at one point, an elite player. His career was derailed, to a degree, ove rthe last few years. He played in just 81 games in 2009, 64 in 2010, and was shifted to right field as a result of his omnipresent knee issue in 2011. He had a bit of a resurgence, however, posting some very good hitting numbers over 140 games for the Mets and Giants, and garnered enough faith for Brian Sabean to trade his top pitching prospect, Zach Wheeler, to New York to acquire the slugging outfielder.
Beltran is an interesting case because, as good of a season as he had (.300/.385/.525), his career has experienced a vast swing, from one of the best players in the game in the mid-2000s to an injured, but generally-still-effective, though much-maligned aging star. It's a career arc that we've seen countless times, but the thing that makes Beltran's case interesting is the fact that he could very well be poised to be a serious contributor again.
So, what can we expect from Beltran in 2012? In his prime, Beltran was one of the most complete players on the planet, a 40-40 threat and annual CF Gold Glove contender. As such, I will look at all three facets of his game, the running, the fielding, and the hitting.
The Running Game
Beltran's knees are pretty well shot at this point. 2004 was a long time ago, and Beltran can't be expected to surprise anybody on the basepaths. He went 4/6 in steal attempts in 2011, and it's probably best that, whatever he has left in those legs, its usage is kept to a minimum. They didn't bother him too much in 2011, so it's not as if he's likely to improve. I can't envision a scenario in which he reaches double-digits in steals, but you can safely pencil him in for a few. Where value is concerned, however, you can safely jot him down as a zero in the baserunning category.
There was a time when Andruw Jones was the greatest defensive CF, probably in the history of the game. Guys like Ken Griffey Jr, heralded athletes, could only strive to emulate him. Among that group of second-tier defenders, however, was Carlos Beltran. From 1999-2009 he accumulated 71 fielding runs, an impressive total. He was gifted with speed and athleticism, but also made an effort to be an intelligent outfielder; take good routes, make smart breaks. After tearing his knees up in recent years, however, all that is left is those mental tools. He's not slow, but he probably doesn't have the physical ability to play center field any more. In 2011 the Mets moved him to right field, and he proved capable. The defensive metrics gave him from -5 to +2, so to call him average would be about accurate.
He's injury prone and he's slower than he once was, but he's got the mental ability to play an adequate right field. I would absolutely trust him with 150 games in right, and probably even let him play a little center if I had to. He's not embarrassing himself out there. I will predict for 2012 a -1 fielding value, based on his average (or a hair worse) scores in 2011, and the fact that he will be 35 in 2012. He is certainly capable of more, but he's probably capable of worse as well. A -1, or roughly average score is fair.
This is the facet of Beltran's game that makes him an appealing free agent. He posted a 152 OPS+ last season, a huge year. Over the previous years, he compiled a 129 OPS+. The dude can hit, and 2011 was no fluke -- for the most part. His babip was slightly elevated (.324, career norm of .303), but his power peripherals (HR/FB), looked great, even lower than they should have been. I don't think a .280 batting average is out of the question for him, and his batting eye (which, if the old song is right, is not connected to the knee bone) should help him produce an OBP in the neighborhood of .355, .360.
His power, too, should prove interesting. he hit 22 home runs last season, but he spent four months in METCO Park, where home runs go to die. If he plays 145-150 games next season, he should be able to get to 20 home runs. In 2011 he hit 172 fly balls, 12.9% of which went for home runs (22). His career norm in this field is over 15%. If he had had that rate in 2011, he would have hit 26 homers. It's obviously impossible to tell how many plate appearances he will have next year; how many fly balls he will hit, and how many of them will go for home runs, but all of the data points to him being able to clear 20 jacks with ease. A .500 SLG is not guaranteed, but is very much within reason, and a .475 seems very likely.
For what it's worth, Bill James is estimating a season of .279/.369/.480 for Beltran, very similar to what I've estimated here. If my math is right, and it always is, this is approximately a value of 30, based on TangoTiger's batting runs. For reference, Beltran had 39 batting runs in 2011. Another way to do it would be to look at his peak batting production (averaging about 25 runs per season), and use the aging weights (.78 for a 35-year-old), giving us 20 runs. Something between 20 and 25 seems most likely to me, and this gives us a total value of:
23 batting runs, -1 fielding runs, -8 positional value (in RF), 17 runs over replacement, for a total of 31 runs, or about 3.4 wins. For the coming seasons this means his value (and remember, this is all assuming he stays healthy), will be:
This means that, with the current valuation of a win, Beltran might be deserving of a contract in excess of $15 MM AAV (average annual value). I'm not prepared to guess as to how many years he will get, but it will probably be 2-3. Based on these evaluations there is certainly a case to be made for offering him a 2-year, $30 MM deal, depending on the risk you are willing to assume as a GM.