Carlos Beltran is the newest member of the St. Louis Cardinals, signing a very generous two-year/$26 million deal with a full no-trade clause. There was plenty of speculation in recent days that the Cardinals were interested in Beltran, Coco Crisp and Cody Ross to add depth to the outfield. With the departure of Albert Pujols, general manager John Mozeliak and the Cardinals were looking to get a bat for the middle of the lineup, preferably a righty. Beltran is a switch-hitter with good splits from each side. In Beltran they get a polished veteran who can hit anywhere from 3rd to 5th in the lineup. His injury history is well documented and does make this a risky signing. Did the Cardinals overstep here? A full analysis of the signing follows.
Beltran had a rejuvenation of sorts in 2011. After a poor and injury riddled 2010, he was able to put together a fine season beginning with the New York Mets, and then with the San Francisco Giants after a trade deadline deal. He ended 2011 with 22 home runs, 84 RBI and 78 R in 142 games and a 4.7 WAR. Beltran’s stat line for the last six seasons is below.
I chose to go back six years so you could see how impressive Beltran was once upon a time. He has been able to ride those numbers much longer than one would expect especially with the injury issues that have plagued him over the last few seasons. Something that made him so great, his speed is non-existent now. Give Beltran (and his agent Dan Lozano) credit for finding a team to give him two years at $26 million with a full no trade clause. I don’t want to say the Cardinals were desperate, but they may have overreached here.
That said, since they are not paying Pujols, maybe they feel they have the ability to take a risk like Beltran on and at a premium. I’m not going to suggest that the Cardinals should have gone in another direction either. They felt they needed a little pop in the middle of the lineup and some depth in the outfield. Beltran, when healthy, will provide that. The but the “healthy” part is the issue. Even last year when he had a very good season, he missed 20 games. In 2010, he missed 98 games. In 2009 he missed 81 games. The Cardinals can ill afford to have Beltran playing in that few games in either 2012 or 2013.
Using the simple WAR calculator created by Lewie Pollis at Yahoo’s On First, I ran some simulations for Beltran below.
Before we can review the chart, I’ll remind you that Beltran’s 2011 WAR of 4.7 is an important factor. It was a very good season no doubt. But, are we (and are the Cardinals) making more of it because he’s been hurt so often over the last couple seasons? Bill James seems to think so, just based on his games played projections for Beltran. I entered James’ projections for Beltran in 2012 and an estimation for 2013 with a proportional drop of ten games. The next is a proportional increase to 140 games giving Beltran the benefit of the doubt. The last is with a detrimental season in the mix of 81 games. It shows exactly the monetary damage the signing can do if Beltran does not reach 140 games each season.
By conducting a break even analysis (above) where 1 WAR equals $5 million in the first season and the following season has a 5% inflation increase in value, we can determine the production Beltran would have to generate in order to make due on the contract terms. We take the $26 million he will earn and divide that by the total of $10.25 million. The result is multiplied by the two seasons and we get a combined WAR of 5.1. Beltran would have to have seasons which resemble the 140 game type above, twice, for the Cardinals to come out ahead. Two seasons exactly as James projects comes up just short. Any of the other scenarios combined with the 81 game season would be a significant loss for their investment. A season where Beltran plays in only 81 games is not out of the question and could be said to be likely. This isn’t a 27 year-old coming off injury. He’ll be 35 in April. I just don’t see a replication of 2011.
Obviously the Cardinals felt that they needed to take on this risk in order to make their lineup more productive. Of the options available to them, Beltran is admittedly the better of the bunch. However, they reached on the contract amount and went above and beyond reason with a full no-trade clause. I wish him the best and for the Cardinals’ sake, hope that I’m proved wrong. Mind you, I am not questioning his ability to produce, I am questioning his ability to stay on the field in order to produce. The Cardinals took a risk, one in which they can look very smart or incredibly bad. Beltran gets $26 million either way.