When Carlos Beltran signed a three-year, $45 million deal in the winter of 2014, the Yankees envisioned a light, manageable role for the then 36-year-old. He’d end his days as an everyday outfielder and slide into the designated hitter spot, where he could age like delectable cheddar cheese.
And, in 2014, that plan was executed. Beltran spent 76 games at DH and 32 games in right, but things didn’t go quite as general manager Brian Cashman had hoped. The 16-year veteran’s TAv dropped to .260, its lowest mark since 2000, and he drove in just 49 runs in 109 games.
Immediately, the deal was declared a mess. Good Lord, the Yankees have to roster this guy for two more seasons? He’s so old; his production will never return anywhere close to its All-Star levels. At least he’s not out being old in right field.
Suddenly, there was 37-year-old Carlos Beltran being old in right field.
When Alex Rodriguez returned from his season-long PED suspension, the team and its fans readied themselves for a tumultuous six months. He was entering his 21st big-league season, had clubbed just 45 home runs over the past three seasons, and hadn’t played 140 games in nearly a decade. With Chase Headley and his shiny new contract occupying third base, the decision was made to try A-Rod out exclusively at DH, so he could make the most of his at-bats.
Against all odds, Rodriguez returned from a four-year hiatus like only Kanye West could. He ran out of the gate like a caged dog, hitting .278 in the first half of the season with 18 home runs and 51 RBIs, and took total control of the DH spot in the lineup.
The Beltran plan was crumpled up and tossed in the wastebin. He was reinserted into right field, and although he weirdly learned how to hit again, he was awful from a defensive standpoint. The three-time Gold Glove winner posted a -15.4 FRAA, which is Baseball Prospectus’ individual defensive metric that factors in things like ballparks and player handedness. 15.4 runs below average! Beltran single-handedly sunk the Yankees’ defensive efficiency to the 22nd worst mark in the league. With an uptick in offensive production, but a poor glove, was the deal still a mess? Based on the team’s new look, yes, it sort of was.
Now, if this were the ‘Millenium Yankees,’ which is some bland nickname for the early-2000s Yankees that I literally just created for the purpose of this article, this would be an entirely different story. Those teams didn’t care about defense, all they cared about was dingers. In a heartbeat, they’d take Beltran’s .280 TAv and 19 home runs in exchange for long, winding routes to fly balls. These aren’t your older brother’s Yankees, though. By locking up Headley, Gregorius and Ellsbury in the last couple of seasons, then adding Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks this winter, it’s clear the Yankees are attempting to build a young, glove-happy team.
Beltran will be gone after this season, and young Aaron Judge will take his place in right, but he’s still going to have to trot out to right field over 100 times this season with news that Rodriguez will continue as the team’s DH in 2016. For the time being, Rodriguez is inadvertently forcing the Yankees to lean on a player with a sub-zero defensive rating in one of their corner outfield spots. It won’t be a big deal one year from now, but Rodriguez may not be a big deal one year from now either. If the team is serious about contending in 2016, then this matters. It’s not on Beltran, and it’s not on Rodriguez, but the two of them have created a defensive issue for the Yankees.
Lead photo: Jonathan Dyer / USA Today Sports