Friday, November 6, 2015

Has Carlos Beltran been worth the financial risk to Yankees?

After the 2013 season, the New York Yankees went on a contract binge like few others have in Major League Baseball, spending more than $500 million in guaranteed salaries.

Carlos Beltran
Photo credit: Keith Allison via WikiCommons
The haul included Masahiro Tanaka’s posting fee and contract value ($175 million), Jacoby Ellsbury's seven-year deal ($153 million), Brian McCann's five-year pact ($85 million) and Carlos Beltran's three-year contract ($45 million). Beltran’s deal was the least expensive of the four large guarantees, but viewed by some as one of the riskier investments based mostly on the veteran outfielder’s age.

Beltran entered the 2014 campaign in his age-37 season, coming off a fine year with the St. Louis Cardinals. He’d lost a couple of steps in the outfield, but the Yankees felt he wouldn’t be overly exposed in right field. What excited the Yankees was having a switch-hitter with power at their disposal. Beltran was considered a professional batter and his contract was believed to be one which would be fulfilled by his performance in the field.

Has it been?

The Yankees would have preferred to have a bit more of a healthy player than they have received to date. While they had to believe that Beltran was not going to be able to stay on the field enough to accumulate 600+ plate appearances each season, I’d bet they did not think he was going to fail to reach 1,000 after two full seasons (he has 980 PA across 242 games).

Further, the Yankees might not have expected Beltran to become completely useless in the field. They might have seen it coming in the final year, but from the outset of the tenure, I doubt it. And I say that because the Yankees couldn’t have assumed they’d move Beltran into a designated hitter role with numerous players needing to find some time in the slot throughout his contract term.

Well, the Yankees were forced to move Beltran into a DH spot in 2014 due to injury to his throwing arm and since Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the season, there were at-bats to be had for the role. In 2015, the club paid the price in right field with Beltran cemented (literally and figuratively) there more often because Rodriguez was back in the fold and claiming the DH spot full time.

The injury certainly hampered Beltran’s season at the plate in 2014. Before getting hurt he was stroking the ball quite well; he was providing more or less exactly what the Yankees hoped for from an offensive perspective. In 2015, Beltran was much healthier as a whole, and his work at the plate benefited from it, especially after May 1. From that point Beltran was arguably the club’s most consistent hitter.

Statistically, and from a performance value-added standpoint, Beltran has failed to live up to his contract price thus far. He’ll have to blow away realistic expectations in 2016 in order to cover the lost ground from 2014-15. Let’s check out his fWAR value and performance value according to FanGraphs.

That’s absolutely pathetic isn’t it? And to be truthful, it’s something that should have been expected. Beltran had a nice 2013 season at the plate (131 wRC+) but showed severe signs of losing it in the field with the Cardinals (-18.7 UZR/150). He registered a 1.9 fWAR in his final season in St. Louis and the Yankees might well have hoped for a duplicate season in 2014, but it wasn't wise for them to have expected that same production over three years from a man inching closer to 40.

In order for Beltran to reach performance value (using $8.1 million per 1.0 fWAR, his 2015 mark, as a basis) he’ll need to record a 4.4 fWAR in 2016. That would push Beltran barely over the breakeven mark for the entirety of his contract. The last time Beltran registered an fWAR value over 4.0 was in 2011 when he combined for a 4.3 mark with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.

Once Beltran tanked in 2014 (regardless of the reasons), the Yankees were hard-pressed to achieve reaching performance value from their right fielder. The club now hopes to receive repeat of 2015 in 2016. My feeling is such a result will come up short. Beltran can still hit, but even that’s likely to take a bit of a downturn as he turns 39 in April. Worse, the Yankees will still need Beltran to play in the field unless there is a significant injury to Rodriguez, who is under contract through 2017.

So, while the Beltran deal was the least significant in terms of total expenditure (and maybe not the worst of the bunch with Ellsbury’s contract potentially set to cause more damage in the long run), it will likely fall short of breaking even and go down as a poor overall investment by the Yankees.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.