As Retro noted, Carlos Beltran spent the last couple of days getting reacquainted with Kansas City.
It's not surprising the two parties have talked. The Royals can use an outfielder who can handle the bat. The cost of doing business is a reported three-year, $48 million deal Beltran already has in hand from a Mystery Team. Speculation centers on that team being the Mariners, but it's certainly possible the Royals have tabled that offer. (Ken Rosenthal indicated it is indeed the Royals who made the first move.) There are also reports that Beltran wants to get back to a World Series. At 37, his biological clock is ticking, so he will have to choose wisely.
I still think Beltran is a fine
player hitter, but we are talking about someone who has battled injury in the past and is now officially in the decline phase of his career. His .339 OBP was his lowest mark since 2005. Yet his .491 slugging percentage would have lead the Royals in 2013 with second place not even close. But then both his OBP and slugging have declined now for two consecutive seasons. Beltran will be 37 in April.
Before we anoint Beltran as the Grand Marshall of the Plaza Parade, let's ask a few questions.
Does Beltran fit in this lineup? You bet. Find me an offense that couldn't use Beltran. He still has pop and knows how to approach a plate appearance. The numbers may be in decline, but on a team desperate for offense, he fits just fine.
Does a Beltran signing signal the end of Billy Butler? I think that's an important question. It's important because I think Butler can be more valuable with the bat than Beltran over the next two seasons. (Butler is signed for $8 million next year and with a club option for $12.5 million in 2015.) But any team that signs Beltran will want him to be at least a part-time DH to rest his legs. How does it work for the Royals when they already have a full-time DH in the fold? One who - if he has the bounce back year I'm expecting - is extremely affordable in this market. So are you willing to push aside what Butler can give you for $20 million for what Beltran can give you for around $28 million? I'm all for upgrades, but are you certain Beltran will be worth the extra $8 million? Myself... I don't see it.
For what it's worth, Steamer has Butler at .293/.373/.467 with a 2.4 fWAR. Beltran is projected to .280/.345/.468 and a 1.9 fWAR.
I love Beltran, but if I have to pick a bat to play for the Royals for the next two years, I'm taking Butler. No contest.
But what if Beltran can play right field for 135 games the next two years? A Gordon-Beltran-Hosmer-Butler-Perez top of the order is kind of tasty. He's been healthy since joining the Cardinals, but players past 35 with a history of knee problems kind of raise a red flag.
What about the Royals budget? Yeah, we know newly extended Dayton Moore said the payroll would largely stay the same from 2013. We also know Moore is full of crap when he talks payroll in October. The "Glass is cheap" mantra is close to dead. He has shown the willingness to expand the budget if his baseball people can sell him on the soundness of the move. Glass is making money, so there's wiggle room to add to the payroll. That's not to say there is a blank check. There's not. But if Moore and the Royals brain trust can sell Glass that Beltran is the guy and it won't push payroll too high, Glass will sign that check.
Why do certain players hold sway over a fan base? It's a general question because the Royals aren't the only team to flirt with former players. It just strikes me as weird. Yes, Beltran was a great player for the Royals. In six and a half seasons in KC he hit .287/.352/.483 and was worth 24.6 bWAR. In seven seasons for the Mets, he hit .280/.369/.500 with 31.1 bWAR. If you ask a Mets fan, they'd love to have him back, too.
It's not that I'm opposed to bringing Beltran home, it's just about being conscious of the cost. If Beltran is going to cost $14-$16 million per year and if it will take three years to get his signature, aren't you better off throwing a few extra million and another year or two at someone like Shin-Soo Choo? Or why not make a play at Curtis Granderson? They will cost more, but they will hold their value longer.
I know this is the Royals and they don't do large market contracts. Choo isn't coming to Kansas City. Granderson would be more affordable, but I haven't heard much about his market at this point. I also know this version of the Hot Stove has flown so close to the sun I'm getting blisters just typing this. Seriously, has there been an off season like this? Guys are flying by industry estimates for contracts. Bizarre trades are being made. When four years for Jason Vargas isn't the most insane move of the winter, this off season is officially on the crazy train.
I've seen some speculation that signing Beltran would mean more tickets sold and more merchandise flying off the shelves. Sorry, but I call bullshit. Sure, Beltran would excite a certain segment of a fan base previously unmoved to attend a bunch of games, but the bump in attendance from his signing would be negligible. Players don't sell tickets. Winning teams sell tickets. There's going to be an increase in attendance (at least initially) next year from
There is a cost of doing business. It may be crazy, but it's a cost.
Sometimes though, that cost is too much. At some point if you're going to overpay, you have to overpay on the right guy. If you give three years to Beltran, you're betting that a 39 year old with a history of knee problems will still be a valuable offensive asset. Sorry. I just don't see that.
The Royals should walk away from Beltran if the price is going to be three years. I'm highly skeptical of a two-year deal. But even before this market began to take shape, there was no chance of Beltran signing a one-year contract. Two was always the better possibility, but now the price is rising. Three years, minimum. This is where I stand down. This is where smart teams will probably stand down. It's teams like the Mariners and the Royals who are still engaged in talks at this point. It's like that Mike McD line from Rounders:
Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.
A Dayton and a Jack Z staredown. This could be epic in it's ineptitude.
As for Beltran, the Royals should pass. In this case the potential rewards don't justify the risks.