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January 9, 2005

Beltran is gone

Carlos Beltran elected to reject the Stros' offer and sign elsewhere, probably with the Mets for $17 mil annually over seven years ($119 million).

As noted in this earlier post, this is really not a surprising result. Although it is a bit discouraging that the Stros put all their eggs in one basket in their pursuit of Beltran and came up with an empty basket, losing him is far from the disaster that many local media types will hype it to be.

As good as he is, Beltran is simply not worth $6 million more per season than J.D. Drew, another free agent outfielder on the market this off-season who signed with the Dodgers for $11 million per year over five years, even though Drew is more of an injury risk than Beltran. By focusing on Beltran and not considering other options, the Stros now find themselves in a position of having no centerfielder and really no good alternatives on the market. You will hear the mainstream media talk about Rice grad Jose Cruz, Jr. and the Mariners' Randy Winn as centerfielders who could be acquired in a trade, but neither of them is a long term answer. Although both are only three years or so older than Beltran, neither of them was able to post a runs created against average ("RCAA," explained here) statistic last season that was better than the 39 year old Bidg's.

You will also hear local media types talk about Jeremy Burnitz, but he is only marginally attractive. He is a 36 year old corner outfielder coming off a Coors Field-inflated season in which he generated an RCAA that was the same as Jeff Kent or Mike Lamb. Although that's above-average, the Stros already have such a player in the younger Jason Lane, who can also play centerfield. Finally, speedy Stros farmhand Willy Tavares has not yet proven in the minors that he can generate a good enough on base percentage or hit with enough power to play effectively at the Major League level, so don't expect him to be the answer.

An intriguing free agent possibility that remains on the market is Magglio Ordonez, a slugging 30 year old former White Sox corner outfielder who is a better hitter than Beltran. Unfortunately, the reason that Ordonez is still on the market is that he is an injury risk, as he is coming off knee surgery last season that led to the rare complication of bone marrow edema. A second surgery, performed in Austria, has reportedly cleared up the problem, but Ordonez was unable to return last season. So, he is a high injury risk and that has held down his value on the free agent market. The White Sox, Cubs and Orioles are reportedly the current bidders for his services. And oh, by the way, Ordonez is also represented by Beltran's uber-agent, Scott Boras.

If the Stros could get reasonably comfortable with Ordonez's rehabiliation from his surgery, then they could stick him in a corner outfield spot opposite of Berkman and place Lane in center as a adequate alternative until a purer centerfielder becomes available. Ordonez and Berkman whacking away at Minute Maid Park would not be a bad alternative to losing Beltran.

Finally, although I would not have objected to the Stros overpaying to keep Beltran, I think its fair to point out that it is rarely a good idea to overpay a player, even of Beltran's stature. And make no mistake about it, Beltran will be overvalued when he finalizes his deal with the Mets or whoever. While this past season was the best of Beltran's career and his batting line of .267(BA)/.367(OBA)/.548(SLG) was excellent, Beltran's RCAA of 46 was considerably less than Berkman's team-best 69 or J.D. Drew's 66. Similarly, Beltran's OPS (on base average + slugging percentage) of .915 tied him for 15th best in the National League, also well below Berkman's sixth best of 1.016 and not even as good as the more pedestrian Burnitz's OPS. Similarly, Beltran is one of the most gifted base stealers of all-time, but that's generally an overvalued skill and not all that important for the Stros as they incorporate speedsters Adam Everett, Chris Burke, and Lane into the lineup. Beltran did walk 92 times last season, but 10 of those were intentional, so there is still a question about his strike zone patience.

Thus, Beltran will likely be a great player for which ever team signs him, but he's still not Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds. The market has overvalued him and the Stros simply are not a rich enough team to overpay in the free agent market. With patience and wise use of their resources, the Stros can bounce back nicely from this disappointment. Signing Berkman and Roy Oswalt to long term deals, and persuading the Rocket to return, would be a nice start.

Posted by Tom at January 9, 2005 5:51 AM |

Comments

Every time I see the 'stros in the news now, I think of how much good they've done for Houston and resolve to go to another game. Houston is a great city, but most of the world ignores it, but by sheer gut 'n gumption the 'stros proved 'em wrong.

Posted by: Houston Corporate Bankruptcy at January 9, 2005 4:38 PM

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