When the New York Yankees signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45-million contract prior to the 2014 season, it raised some eyebrows. It’s usually not a good idea to sign a player that old to that long a term when he has negative defensive value.
While the terms “negative defensive value” and “Carlos Beltran” have traditionally mixed like mayonnaise and grapefruit, in the latter part of his career injuries and age have caught up with him. According to FanGraphs, he hasn’t been defensively in the black since 2008—five years before he signed with the Yankees.
However, Beltran was coming off a couple of excellent seasons with the bat, and the Yankees play by different rules than almost anyone else. Overspending a touch on a guy like Beltran isn’t really a problem for a team that prints money and he could undoubtedly help the teams score runs.
The only problem is the use of “undoubtedly” in that sentence wound up being wildly optimistic. In his first season with the team last year Beltran posted a .258 TAv on the way to a -0.0 WARP. His hitting wasn’t disastrous, but for him to have any value it has to be well-above average.
Coming into the 2015 season, expectations were not particularly high. It’s hard to get people excited about a 38-year-old player making $15 million who was below replacement level the previous season. In most cases that’s pretty damn reasonable, although if nothing else the Yankees have shown this year that age-related decline is not necessarily linear and players in the twilight of their careers can have resurgent campaigns.
At the beginning of the year, Beltran did not look like he would be one of those players. He got off to an appalling start in April with a .162/.215/.265 line which prompted responses like the following:
Stick a fork in Carlos Beltran. He's done. #Yankees
— B.J. Davis (@BJ_Davis23) April 21, 2015
— hannah✯ (@firstheart42) April 30, 2015
Please note that I literally searched “stick a fork in Carlos Beltran” in order to find those tweets. I’m sure there’s a lot more out there if you are willing to break free of the “Stick a fork in X. X is done” framework. Personally, I was not.
Interestingly, he has posted a wRC+ above 120 in every month since then, and yet fans continued to bemoan his “doneness.”
Carlos Beltran needs to retire! He needs to take a breath, look in the mirror and go home. Too stiff, slow and old. He is DONE!
— Doug Treadway (@Tnyankeefan35) May 16, 2015
Carlos Beltran is done. I mean done. This is where he always flourishes. I never thought he would suck this bad here.
— LeslieinFortLee (@DisgustedNYer) June 3, 2015
@LukeBecker_YN26 that will be fun. It's clear as day that Carlos Beltran is done.
— Richie⚾️Ba〽️bara (@richie_bambara) July 12, 2015
Twitter is not necessarily the place to find the most accurate baseball analysis, but it is interesting that the perception that Beltran no longer has anything to offer has lingered deep into the season, long after he’s turned his season around.
It takes a long time for the general consensus to change. Yankees fans had it in their head that Beltran wasn’t any good anymore because of what they’d seen for over a year. In 127 games from the April 2014 to the end of April 2015 the outfielder was worth -1.3 Wins Above Replacement. In 89 games since he’s been worth 1.9.
Nowadays very few people are calling for Beltran to be pierced with cutlery, which is probably for the best. Since the All-Star Break the 38-year-old has hit .304/.385/.551 with seven of his 14 home runs. His production has increased in every conceivable category recently. He’s taking more walks, getting the ball in the air more and driving it with authority consistently. There is some BABIP luck involved here, but in the grand scheme of things it’s a minor factor.
How effective Beltran can be from here on out may depend on his health more than anything else, but he is well and truly back as a lineup stalwart and significant offensive contributor. His awful defense will always limit his value, and especially given what happened in 2014, his contract may never look like an efficient allocation of funds. But in the midst of a division race, he’s a bat the Yankees can count on.
Age may well be fraying the edges of Beltran’s game, but at this particular moment ,we can say with a great deal of certainty that he is not done.
(Photo: Greg M. Cooper-USA Today Sports)