In the second entry of this series, the spotlight turns to Carlos Beltran, who has had quite the diverse career. In his 16-year career, he’s had five stops along the road, starting with the Kansas City Royals, before a brief (yet impactful…more on this later) stop in Houston. Then he had the longest stop of his career with the New York Mets, before another brief stop in San Francisco, before arriving at his current home with the St. Louis Cardinals. All along, his career has been defined by the rare run of constant potential: the chance to be a big time player, then the opportunity to showcase it, due to a mixture of struggling clubs and injury woes. However, when all things are considered, he’s put together a solid resume of work and has been one of the better outfielders of the past decade. But is that enough for him to be considered on a historic level? Let’s see where Beltran stands on the big picture.
The Numbers (pre-2013)
– 16 years (age 36): .282 avg, 334 home runs, 1243 RBI, 2064 hits, 416 doubles, 74 triples, 306 stolen bases, .360 on-base percentage, .496 slugging percentage
1. The Case For: When he was one of the most consistent hitters in baseball for the better part of his first ten seasons. He played his first full season at age 22, and also had his first 100 RBI season. He followed that with eight of the next ten seasons, averaging 98 RBI per season. Across that same time span, he hit better than 25 home runs six different times, with a career-high of 41 in 2006. It is arguable what was his greatest skill during that time span as well, his power or his speed. From 2001-04, he averaged 37 stolen bases a season, and his 38 homer/42 stolen base 2004 season made him a strong member of the 30-30 club. He is also one of the most accomplished switch hitters of all-time, hitting the sixth most homers ever for a split duty guy. He’s also the only switch hitter in MLB history to hit 300 homers and steal 300 bases.
However, his two very strong assets that set him apart from a glut of other dually capable players is ability in the field and his high pressure ability. At his best, he was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He won three Gold Gloves from 2006-08 when his game was at its best, and twice won the Fielding Bible’s honors for best center fielder in baseball as well. He has a strong and accurate arm as well, and has eight seasons of at least 10 outfield assists.
In postseason play, he is one of the greatest hitters of all-time. He has a .363 batting average in 37 career playoff games, along with 14 home runs, including a record eight in one postseason in a 2004 October with the Astros that only consisted of 12 games. His five consecutive postseason games with a homer that season are also a record.
2. The Case Against: While Beltran’s production has been impressive; he did lose some significant years to injury in his mid-prime seasons. Over a three-year stretch from 2009-2011, he played in a total of 287 games, and only played in over half a season once. During this time he battled multiple knee injuries, which robbed him of much of his speed. From 2009-2012, he averaged only eight stolen bases a season, and had to move to right field due to both loss of range and preservation. He’s never been a particularly prolific hitter from an average sense either, only hitting over .290 three times in his career. Also, despite a long and steady career, he’s been an All-Star in less than half his seasons, and has never finished in the Top 3 in any Most Valuable Player vote.
3. Similiar Players (through age 35)
– Andre Dawson (.283 avg, 346 home runs, 1231 RBI, 2201 hits, 396 doubles, 300 steals)
– Dave Winfield (.285 avg, 332 home runs, 1331 RBI, 2241 hits, 375 doubles, 200 steals)
– Bernie Williams (.301 avg, 263 home runs, 1132 RBI, 2097 hits, 401 doubles, 144 steals)
4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what’s it going to take): Beltran finds himself in a tough position regarding how he profiles for the Hall of Fame. As a centerfielder, he finds himself in an extremely difficult group to compare against in terms of all-time numbers. There have been 18 primary players at the position that have been inducted thus far, not counting the inevitable election of Ken Griffey, Jr before Beltran’s eligibility clock starts.
Once again, the potential of Beltran comes in the spotlight again. He both is, and isn’t, an elite performer at his position. Beltran’s career WAR (64.9) tells a story that shows him on the fringe of being in the top 10 players to ever play the position. His five-tooled impact during his prime and late career renaissance as a power hitter has helped him to get in range of some very solid marks. With another 20 home runs in 2013, he’ll pass none other than Joe DiMaggio’s career mark of 361, as well as move him into the top 10 all-time at centerfield. That’s an impressive, but it’s really the only strong claim to fame he’ll make.
The potential of Carlos Beltran will ultimately be his undoing. He lost the years that would have put him firmly in range to make a run at the Hall, especially in light of the productive turn he’s taken with the Cardinals in the last two years. His three-year average coming into the 2009 season, where injuries first took a substantial toll on him (at age 32, his late prime) was a .278/34/113 effort, with 22 steals and 37 doubles added on as well. An addition two years of those changes everything about what his potential is. He’d be in range to top 400 home runs and 2,500 hits, in addition to the 300 steals he’s already accumulated.
An output of that caliber would have put Beltran on par with Dawson, who was considered to be more of a fringe HOF. Who knows what could have happened in withat time. Perhaps Beltran would have filled out his entire potential, and became the best player in the National League for at least one full season (although he had terrible timing for a coming of age with the dominance of Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols happening simultaneously as his best years). Beltran has as unique niche established, but it’s all based on the ‘almost’ instead of the ‘done’. He’s a postseason hero, without a Championship. He is a power hitter, who’s never led in any major category. A Rookie of the Year, that never took the next major award step. Instead of having the case that Dawson had, being an MVP, he’s more in the haze range of Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds, and as of now, that’s proven to be very great, but not immortal.
So, when it’s all said and done, and the question is asked about Carlos Beltran’s place in history: is he in, out or in-between, the numbers are solid, but the time lost will hurt, and he will remain OUT.
For more on Beltran’s road to prove me wrong (although he’ll never ever know I wrote this in all likelihood), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.