When talking about this year’s offseason, most of what the Giants did and didn’t do is fairly easy to defend, given the right mindset and enough cheap booze. Still, while most of the big-name free-agent sluggers ended up with contracts either of staggering length or shocking amounts of money, it’s hard to understand how the market for Carlos Beltran disappeared as quickly as it did. But even though the Giants could have afforded him, I didn’t want Carlos Beltran.
Given Beltran’s career, it’s easy to see how a hitter of his caliber could help the hapless Giants offense. Beltran has a career line of .283/.361/.496, and while he’s not about to repeat his .275/.388/.594, 41 HR, 7.0 WAR, season from 2006 that got him 4th in the MVP voting, he continues to put up solid numbers while he’s healthy.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Beltran just wanted to get away. While he backed away from his public comments that he didn’t like hitting at AT&T Park, it seemed pretty clear at the 2011 trade deadline that he only wanted to go to San Francisco because he saw an opportunity to get a championship ring. Without that immediate promise, it’s easy to imagine Beltran turning down any offers from San Francisco that didn’t include overwhelming amounts of money. In other words, while we could lust after the 2-year/$26 million deal that he accepted from the Cardinals, there’s no reasonable expectation the Giants could have had him for that or even any comparable amount.
But that’s okay. Beltran’s numbers sure look good, and would look even better written in loopy black and orange calligraphy doodled in your notebook, but it wouldn’t have been that easy. Beltran played 142 games in 2011, but just 145 in between 2009-2010 combined with knee injury and surgery. Beltran looked healthy in 2011, except for that whole hand/wrist thing, but he’s going to be 35 next year, and you could hear a collective gasp from the crowd every time he made contact with the wall or ground in San Francisco. For a team trying to recover from a season decimated by injury, signing Beltran isn’t a step toward healthiness or durability.
Also, team chemistry is a consideration. Much has been made about the scrappiness and team bonding of the 2010 championship team: the downtrodden rejects – or dare we say, Misfits – who brought the Giants out of the all-about-Barry era. From the start, Beltran broke that mold. He took uniform number 15 from the coach, and bumped incumbent right fielder Nate Schierholtz out of position, just as Schierholtz was starting to develop into the player we’ve been hoping he’d become.
The Giants were 60-44 (.576 win %) when they traded for Beltran; they finished the year 86-76. While Beltran was certainly not the only reason for the 26-32 free-fall to finish the year, it sure felt like his presence coincided with a disruption in the clubhouse. Everything on the Giants, from the players fielding multiple positions, to Pat the Bat’s hometown discount, to The Franchise, pointed to a clubhouse of humble Team Players. Until Beltran.
While last year’s impromptu Youth Movement was more an accident than a design, the 2012 Giants will include more of the Giants’ building blocks of the future, particularly if Brandon Belt gets real playing time and if Gary Brown sees the majors. Add in Eric Surkamp, Heath Hembree, Dan Otero, and more, and you’ve got a young, cohesive team looking for role models. If the Front Office wants to set a good precedent, not based around mercenaries just looking for rings, then overpaying for Beltran would have been a mistake.