Aaron Rowand

The case against signing Carlos Beltran

When the Giants were known to be looking for offensive help back in July, Carlos Beltran was a popular choice among most, including many bloggers who cover the team. At first I was upset, because I thought Zack Wheeler was a little pricey for a rental player and I would have preferred if the Giants had gotten more athletic by trading for a guy like B.J. Upton or Michael Bourn instead.

But the Giants were in a pretty good position standings-wise at the time. The Giants welcomed Beltran to the team in the middle of a series win in Philadelphia. Beltran didn’t hit much in the beginning, but once he got going, watch out…

Then Beltran continued not hitting, hurt his hand/wrist/whatever and hit the DL for a while. Meanwhile the Giants imploded, and by the time Beltran came back and started hitting (really well, in fact), it was too late. Beltran’s quest for .300 was successful, but the trade wasn’t if the point was to spark the team to another playoff run.

However, even though the Giants’ record was 26-32 after the trade for Beltran, the prevailing wisdom on whether or not to re-sign him goes pretty much like this:

  1. The Giants couldn’t hit last season.
  2. Carlos Beltran is a good hitter.
  3. The Giants should re-sign Carlos Beltran.

Okay, that 3-part set of reasons is too simplistic. There’s an additional 3-parter that comes into play:

  1. The Giants have money to spend on free agents, but the ownership group is too stingy to sign Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes.
  2. Besides those three guys, there aren’t any can’t-miss free agent bats out there. Even though he’s past his prime, Beltran’s the best hitter in the group that’s left.
  3. If the Giants are going to raise ticket prices again, they’d better be offering more in 2012 than Brian Wilson Garden Gnomes.

It seemed a couple weeks ago like almost everyone was in favor of bringing the guy back, so I lobbed a question to Giants fans on Twitter:



Then Scott “Excel God” Willis put together a survey AND graphed out the results after a week’s worth of votes. After the results were in, it was official: I am in the minority on this whole Beltran thing.

Here’s why I would recommend to the Giants to hold off on offering Beltran a contract higher than something he’d never sign, like a 2-year, $20MM deal.

Just because you have money doesn’t mean it always makes sense to spend it.
There have been a couple other times when the Giants treated free agency as if they owned a multimillion dollar gift card that was set to expire in March. That’s how they ended up paying Barry Zito $126MM and Aaron Rowand $60MM. That’s not to say Beltran isn’t significantly more talented than either Zito or Rowand were when the Giants made their lives with astronomical contract offers, but…

Beltran isn’t exactly durable.
One of the things that’s held the Giants back in recent years has been their refusal to change their perspective on the career arcs of veteran players. The BALCO era is one of the culprits, creating the veteran model where a guy figures things out at age 30 and cruises along at that rate until he starts wearing Tommy Bahama.

Beltran, who’ll turn 35 next season, hit the DL once but still played in a respectable 142 games last season. His contract year. In 2009 and 2010, Beltran played 145 games combined. If the Giants sign him it would probably take a third year on the deal (because it’s so cold here!), and the chances of Beltran playing another couple of half-seasons before turning it on in the final year of that deal in hopes of becoming a DH into his late-30s would be extremely high … as long as Beltran still had the ability to turn it on at age 37.

For a team that saw an abnormal number of players go to the disabled list in 2011, guys who have a decent chance at playing 145 games are the focus — which is probably why they jumped at the chance to trade for Melky Cabrera. Cabrera probably won’t match his production from last year, but he can be counted on to play 144 games (his average over the last six seasons).

Beltran’s cost isn’t just financial.
Beltran is a true pro. When he plays, he produces. When the game’s over, he answers questions from the media.

(Curb Your Enthusiasm alert)

THAT BEING SAID … The 2010 Giants got lucky, according to many. That’s probably true in that they got hot at the right time and Bobby Cox gave up on Brooks Conrad a game too late. But they also — at least from an outsider’s view — looked like a real team. There were some eclectic characters, some of whom may have worn out their welcome to an extent, but they all seemed to be pulling for one another and sacrificing for the good of the team during that surreal, fantastic run.

Beltran doesn’t seem like a bad guy, and he seemed to get along quite well with Pablo Sandoval and Andres Torres in particular. But Beltran didn’t play in right field over Nate Schierholtz before Schierholtz broke his foot because he was the better defender. And once in RF, Beltran made a few decent plays. Several other times, Beltran looked like he was running at about 33% speed. Same with some of the double plays he grounded into. Beltran complained about the weather at AT&T Park. He complained about the Giants using Cody Ross as a leadoff hitter (to be fair so were many Giants fans, but none of them were making about $3MM per month, either).

Then there’s this reaction to a walkoff hit late in the season by Mark DeRosa (check out Beltran in the dugout about a minute in … I’m still not sure if he knows the Giants won that game).

Waiting for bargains worked before.
Remember how great it was when the Giants signed Aubrey Huff? Not that crazy $22MM contract after the World Series when everyone was still drunk off Cook’s and Bud Light; the $3MM Sabean offered when Huff had few other options. Signing Juan Uribe was a similar proposition.

The point here isn’t that the Giants are guaranteed to have Grady Sizemore fall into their laps as a 1-year bargain, but that it’s not wise to overspend during a down free agent year simply because your wallet’s full.

I’m aware that a lot of this isn’t about Beltran. Giants fans heard night after night how AT&T Park was sold out, and as a result have no patience for talk about “rainy day funds” and “building a budget.”

The reality is that many high-priced free agents turn out to be relative busts. Making panic moves, even if the Giants’ offense was legitimately panic-worthy last season, will prove disastrous. It’s a recipe for Sabean explaining in 2017 why the Giants are having a hard time “building a budget” because they’re still paying Jose Reyes $22MM per year through 2018, even though part of his right hamstring was replaced with the unchewable portion of a McRib at the end of 2014 (the surgery will be successful, BTW).

I wish I had some magical free agents to suggest in lieu of Beltran and his manicured features, but I don’t. Grant’s got a few good suggestions for under-the-radar vets the Giants could go after (along with Beltran, but try to pay more attention to the Betemit portion). Free agency, at least in terms of one impact signing, isn’t the answer — not this year. The smarter move is to add a few moderately priced pieces, and if the offense is struggling midseason, the Giants can improve their team if they’re willing to take on additional salary. That’s the thing about having money. There’s always someone willing to accept it.

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