As the Cardinals look to fill the void left by former franchise player Albert Pujols, the club has a number of different options to go about doing just that. Obviously it won’t be easy to replace a perennial all-star and MVP candidate, and no one player (except maybe Prince Fielder) can possibly step in and put up Pujols-like statistics both offensively and defensively. With that being said, one name that’s being tossed around as a potential replacement is Carlos Beltran. The Cards have been rumored to be highly interested in the free agent outfielder, but after the jump I’ll explain why signing Beltran would be a major mistake.
Before getting into why signing Beltran wouldn’t be the best course of action for St. Louis, it is important to keep in mind that Lance Berkman is expected to move from right field back to first base next season. A blockbuster signing of Prince Fielder could always change that, but as of right now, the 35-year-old veteran will play his most comfortable position.
During the Cardinals’ improbable postseason run this past October, many young players rose to the occasion and showcased their talent and potential not only to St. Louis, but to the entire baseball community. One of these players is Allen Craig, whose heroics down the stretch proved to us all that he is much more than a super-utility man. Craig was somewhat overshadowed by World Series MVP David Freese, but as far as I’m concerned, he can be every bit as productive as Freese for years to come.
So what exactly does this have to do with Carlos Beltran? Well, Craig’s recent knee surgery will likely keep him out of commission for at least the first month of the season. He was still quite effective with screws in his right kneecap during the latter half of the season, but the recovery period for this particular surgery is between four and six months. This leaves a temporary hole in the Redbird outfield, which already features Matt Holliday in left and Jon Jay in either center or right.
As I mentioned, the Cards are one of the teams from which Carlos Beltran is considering an offer. He is undoubtedly one of the top five unsigned free agents still available, but don’t let that fool you. Here’s where the downside kicks in. For starters, Beltran will be 35 years old in April. The veteran does have some injury history, playing in a total of 287 games in the last three seasons combined. Although the switch hitter posted a .300/.385/.525 triple slash line in 2011, he will start to decline sooner rather than later. He has more Major league experience than Lance Berkman, and I’m just not convinced the guy has more than a year or two left. Beltran has lost much of the athleticism the once made him a valuable asset defensively, and St. Louis fans are all too familiar with veterans that don’t pan out as expected.
Furthermore, Beltran appears to be looking for something in the neighborhood of $12.5 million for three years, which is a hefty price to pay for someone who is no longer a game-changer. I understand the temptation to go out and spend some of the money that came off the books when Pujols left town, but patience is key in this situation. If John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt Jr. aren’t willing to wait until another offseason in the near future to acquire a big-name player, then they should pursue Prince Fielder. The Cardinals are one superstar away from being essentially the same World Series team, so why not go that route rather than signing multiple mid-level players?
The Cards are already one of the older teams in MLB, and signing Beltran would only contribute to that. We all witnessed first-hand the power of youth during the 2011 postseason, and it should not be underestimated. Allen Craig and Jon Jay, 27 and 26 respectively, have earned the opportunity to be the everyday guys alongside Matt Holliday in the outfield. Both are above average in the field and will give you quality at-bats on a consistent basis, and both have only scratched the surface of the level at which they are capable of playing. Signing Beltran would indirectly show that the team doesn’t have a great deal of confidence in these guys. Assuming Craig is healthy come May (which I acknowledge is no guarantee), there is no reason to bump either him or Jay down the ladder.
You can talk all you want about Beltran’s track record and how the stats show that he is a perfect fit for the Cardinals, but his reliability is shaky at best. There aren’t too many alternatives other than Coco Crisp or Cody Ross (both of whom are everyday players), and since the Cards only really need a temporary outfield plug-in, Skip Schumaker and/or Adron Chambers are realistic options. I know that doesn’t sound all that appealing, but sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make. Less is more in this case. Craig and Jay are simply too talented to keep in waiting behind a free agent for another three years. The upside is there. This team cannot afford to make an unnecessary move simply because the franchise cornerstone is gone.
Let’s all take a deep breath.