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Belting Out a Waiver Wire Winner: Why the Sox Should Trade For Carlos Beltran

by Mike DePilla
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
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The calendar has flipped to August, which means two things: ESPN officially changes their programming to 99% football coverage and baseball trades cannot be attempted without players passing through waivers.

After promising skeptical Sox fans for months that he would absolutely add a bat down the stretch if the Sox were in contention, Ken Williams struck out in his attempt to land Adam Dunn or a comparable slugger before last Saturday's non-waiver trade deadline. Meanwhile, manager Ozzie Guillen continues to shove a very heavy dosage of Mark Kotsay down everyone's throats, insisting that "the numbers out there for Kotsay are not what he deserves."

While Kotsay has been unlucky this season, a mere increase in luck would not make him a quality candidate to be hitting 5th in the batting order, as he is tonight in the first game of a crucial three-game series vs. the Twins. After 254 at bats his slash line stands at .228/.305/.378. That .683 OPS would qualify him to be a great first base coach.

The four-game power outage in Baltimore, in which the Sox scored only one run off each of the Orioles' mediocre starters, should not be blown out of proportion as a cause for alarm, but it did nothing to quell offense concerns either. So, will Williams reverse the team's dismissive attitude toward a bona fide DH by making a waiver deal?

Thanks to the waivers process you can forget about guys like Dunn (who was already placed on waivers and claimed) or Prince Fielder (who wouldn't make it through) now, but there are still plenty of bad contracts and walk year veterans out there to sift through for some talent. While a true diamond find like Alex Rios is rare and shouldn't be expected on a yearly basis, there are a few intriguing names to keep in mind for possible trades this month.

Rumors about Carlos Delgado already popped up, so you know Williams is still looking. He has already said he prefers a splashy, "impact-type" hitter to let his team knows he's serious about contending. (That is somewhat contradictory to his comments here about the value of being "marginally better." If he was OK with a marginal improvement, why didn't he show much interest in Adam LaRoche or Luke Scott?)

In any case, there are a bunch of names I think the Sox will keep their eye on, some of which I'll post more about this week. But there is one risky, splashy, out-of-leftfield name I think the Sox should and will kick the tires on.

Quietly, the perfect storm is brewing for the Sox to pick up a big-time impact player. A perfect fit. Get ready to suspend disbelief and imagine the Sox trading for...

1. Carlos Beltran, Mets
Current stats: .195/.300/.312, 1 HR (22 games)
Projected stats: .282/.370/.505, 5 HR (ZiPS, rest of season)
Money owed: $24.5 million (About $6 million this year plus $18.5 million in '10.)

Yes, the guy I am going to try to sell you on is Carlos Beltran. The same Beltran that is coming off knee surgery, currently batting under .200, and owed more than $20 million though next year. OK, I have my work cut out for me.

First of all, Williams had documented interest in Beltran when he was a free agent six years ago and, as we all know, Kenny may forgive but he never forgets. Beltran is the exact kind of target Kenny loves: a sexy name, somewhat passed his prime, looking for a kick start to an underwhelming season.

In a lot of ways, Beltran is a great fit for the Sox. Consider:
  • He's a lefty bat (switch hitter, actually).
  • He's versatile enough to hit anywhere in the line up.
  • He's not an all-or-nothing power hitter.
  • He's still a capable defender.
  • He can run.
  • He has playoff experience and success.
Sure, some of those points come with caveats: His Gold Glove days in center may be over and knee surgery probably robbed him of his 30+ stolen base days. But he can still be an above-average glove in right, representing a significant improvement over Carlos Quentin, and he can still get around the bases better than a lumbering DH.

Despite all the Dunn love in the Sox front office over the past weeks, manager Ozzie Guillen is sure to prefer a more versatile hitter, runner and defender like Beltran, a keep-the-line-moving kind of guy who can hit a few doubles and score from second on a single. He could also fit into a CF-RF-DH rotation, adding to Ozzie's high-priority flexibility more than limited defenders like Dunn or Manny Ramirez.

Beltran has missed most of 2010 with a knee injury, and has taken a little time to shed the rust in his first weeks back, as evident by his poor .612 OPS so far. Slowly, he is becoming productive again. ZiPS projects him to post a respectable .282/.370/.505 line the rest of way in 2010, numbers that would likely see a boost in power if he moved from cavernous Citi Field to the the homer-happy Cell.

Though there is an impression of him as a has-been, Beltran has continued to put up good numbers when healthy in recent years. In 2008, his last full season, he hit .284/.376/.500 with 25 stolen bases. He was having a very good season again last year before he got hurt: .325/.415/.500 in 81 games. While he's no sure thing to come back to his old form at 33 years old, he's not so old that his bat should just stop dead.

The guy has a great track record in the playoffs as well. In 22 career postseason games, Beltran owns a ridiculous .366/.485/.817 line. Yes, that's a .817 slugging percentage. He is the kind of veteran Ozzie would not shy away from using in big situations.

In general, I don't think you will see too many good National League hitters pass through waivers all the way to the American League- there's just too much competition for the playoffs in the Senior Circuit and too many teams needing an extra bat. However, nobody will want to take on the full $18.5 million for an injury-plagued Beltran next season, so he is one of the main exceptions. How many players this talented could you get at this point in the season?

The Mets, meanwhile, are 8.5 games out of first in the NL East, behind two teams, falling out of the race pretty quickly, and disappointed once again in their talent-to-performance disparity. (Doesn't that seem to happen every year with them?) You have to wonder if they'd like to get out from a bulk of Beltran's contract for next year.

In fact, as I started writing this, I came across this article from the New York Times, suggesting that, with Angel Pagan and other prospects knocking at the door, the Mets indeed do want to move him now or in the offseason. The writer, David Waldstein, believes "the Mets are ready to let Beltran go right now, for nothing in return, if a team claims him off waivers."

Once again, a waiver claim on Beltran is highly unlikely. But when he passes through, the Sox could work out a deal in which the Mets pick up a significant part of the tab for next year while the Sox throw in a decent but not spectacular prospect or two their way.

This is all too perfect.

If you follow all the logic here, I think Williams' eyes would light up with the perfect buy-low opportunity for a big name splash he's always had his eye on. He put in a very risky claim on Rios, who was owed $60 million, last year. Heck, I could potentially see him claiming Beltran this year if he was really going all in.

Realistically, I don't think the Sox would outright claim him. But if the Mets are motivated sellers, Beltran could be had for very little without assuming the full remainder of his contract. A change of scenery to a more hitter-friendly ballpark, along with the flexibility to play right field and DH and the energy of a pennant race could bring out the best in the former All-Star and send the Sox into the postseason with a full head of steam. It took a ton of factors to get to the point where this is both a plausible idea and a good one.

If Beltran plays up to his .875 projects OPS, that would represent a nearly-200 point increase over Kotsay's production, with improved defense and baserunning to boot. He could satisfy Kenny's desire for a splashy statement, and Ozzie's desire for a versatile non-slugger veteran.

Are you interested Sox fans? I know I am.


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