Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Carlos Beltran Signing Thoughts & Afterthoughts

(Courtesy of Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

I'm sure many of us were still reeling from/coping with the announcement of the Robinson Cano-Seattle Mariners signing on Friday night when the Carlos Beltran deal was reported.  For me, that meant drinking more beers than I should have at my girlfriend's work holiday party and trying to rationalize the business side of the deal with a co-worker of hers who is a big Yankee fan.  By the time we got home, I didn't have the energy or the mental sharpness to write much more than I did on the signing.  Now that I've had a few days to think about it, I think I'm ready to analyze the deal and what Beltran will bring to the team for the next 3 seasons.

- For everything I don't like about Beltran's age, there's something I do like about his offensive production potential.  Old or not, declining bat speed or not, Beltran has posted 3 straight seasons of well above-average to great production since getting healthy.  It's tough to argue with wOBA values of .391, .355, and .359, 78 HR, and 95 doubles, and that's before he came to a stadium with a short porch that caters to his still elite lefty pull power.

- I touched on it before, and I'm going to touch on it again now.  The thing that still greatly concerns me about Beltran is the major dip in BB rate he had in 2013.  Before this past season, Beltran hadn't had a BB rate below 10% since 2005.  This season it dropped to 6.3%, the third straight year it decreased and when paired with an uptick in O-Swing % (31.0%) a pretty big indicator that he's started to cheat a bit to keep up with fastballs.

- However much bat speed Beltran has lost though, he's done a solid job masking it with his new approach.  He still registered as an above-average hitter against almost all forms of fastballs in 2013 according to PITCHf/x, and he didn't see a dramatic drop in production against offspeed pitches.  There are still plenty of plus hitting skills left in his body and still plenty of pop in his bat.

- And not for nothing, but Kevin Long has excelled at helping guys tweak their pre-swing mechanics to eliminate excess movement and be faster to the ball.  Beltran doesn't have a lot of excess movement in his swing, but perhaps he can work with Long to adjust something in his stride or hand movement that allows him to square up fastballs while not sacrificing so much of his traditional patience and willingness to take pitches.

- If the season started tomorrow, I imagine Beltran would be penciled into Robbie Cano's old #3 spot in the batting order and I think that's exactly where he belongs.  Assuming Jeter is still going to hit second, Beltran's reputation and the short porch in right should provide protection for The Captain.  If he and Ellsbury can get on base consistently, there should be plenty of ducks on the pond for Carlos to drive in, and Beltran's low strikeout tendencies allow for plenty of stolen base/hit-and-run opportunities.  The Yankees have needed to get more diverse offensively and Beltran's skill set and switch hitterness allows them to do that without getting away from their core values of power and patience.

- In the field is where things could get ugly for Beltran and I'm curious to see how the playing time rotation in the outfield will shake out if Gardner and/or Ichiro is still around when the season starts.  Beltran still has a good enough arm but his range in the field has been severely diminished by his natural age-related regression.  While playing in right in YS3 will help mask that some, having a late-game defensive upgrade on the bench would be a winning strategy.

- It would also be something to help manage Beltran's health and keep him on the field as much as possible.  He might not like getting yanked but he has to be self aware enough now to know he's not the defensive outfielder he used to be.  I expect he'll also receive at least 1 day a week at DH to give his knees a rest.  Now that they've committed that 3rd year to him, the Yankees need him in the lineup and producing for all 3 to make the signing worthwhile.  Not like Joe isn't already used to juggling that, right?

- On the topic of the 3rd year, it seems to me like that was always part of the Cano contingency plan.  The Yankees took a hard line on only 2 years earlier in the offseason when they were still the favorites for Cano.  Once Cano was gone, they got back in touch with Beltran's agent, relented on the 3rd year, and got a deal done quickly.  The way things came together made it seem like Beltran always wanted to go to the Yankees and the Yankees would be willing to give him what he wanted if they didn't have Cano around.  As far as contingency plans go, they could have done worse.

- I hate to dip into the "Yankee tradition" well because I think it's mostly pointless when discussing performance of older players, but if there is a candidate to truly get a spark from putting on the pinstripes, it's Beltran.  He's always wanted to come to the Yankees and it just never worked out until now.  He has to know he's on his last deal here so what better way to go out than to prove you can still rake in the uniform you always wanted to wear?

- Did I convince anybody of anything what that last statement?  No?  OK, just checking.

- As for what to expect from Beltran next season, the early projections are nothing if not predictable for an outfielder who turns 37 in the first month of next season:
  • Steamer- 122 G, .277/.342/.473, 20 HR, 1.8 WAR
  • Oliver- 143 G, .271/.337/.463, 23 HR, 2.2 WAR
  • ZiPS- 130ish G, .267/.324/.466, 23 HR, 1.7 WAR
  • CAIRO- 137 G, .273/.336/.445, 19 HR, 2.7 oWAR
- Most of these projections were done without factoring in the positive impact playing in YS3 will have on Beltran's offensive and defensive value, so I bet a new batch would all look a little better.  If Beltran can stay healthy and be a 3-WAR player for the Yankees for the first 2 years of the deal, I think they'll be happy with that and I think I will be too.  If he starts to fall apart and the decline in bat speed saps his production potential further, they could be looking into another OF platoon scenario sooner rather than later.

- All in all, it's hard to argue against the Beltran signing after what happened with Cano.  The Yankees weren't shelling out another $100+ mil to Shin-Soo Choo after signing Ellsbury and they needed a quick fix for some left-handed production to make up for losing Cano.  The match was always there with Beltran, the mutual interest was as well, so why not do it?  Are there really any better options out there right now?  Nelson Cruz?  A trade for Mark Trumbo?  Nah.  3 years for another older player is a risk, but it's a risk the team was willing to take for a player of Beltran's caliber.

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