It was a short eight days ago, that I had an epiphany: the Indians should be waiting out the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes. At age 35 coming off his best year in a while, there could be a concern giving him big money and a long term commitment. With Josh Willingham taken off the board by the Minnesota Twins, my rationale then as to why the Tribe and Beltran could work:
if the years and the money aren’t there, could Beltran be looking at a Kevin Millwood/Juan Gonzalez type one year deal? Could the Indians make a one-year, $10 million commitment to the switch-hitting stud and plug him right into the middle of the order and let him set his market again for next year?
To me, it’s a no-lose situation for both sides if Beltran can’t get what he wants long term right now. Make yourself play for the contract, perform at a high level and you can hit the open market again next winter. If the Indians contend, you keep him. If they fall out of it and Beltran is playing well, there will for sure be a taker for him at the deadline, the same way there was last summer when the Mets sent him out west.
For the most part, I thought it was a good theory, but a pipe dream. We’ve heard from the front office that the team will be adding $20 million in payroll just in arbitration raises to the likes of Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, and others. They already added $10 million more between the one-year deals with Derek Lowe and Grady Sizemore. With any other major free agent acquisition, the Tribe would have to be creative and possibly move a player or two.
Late last night, ESPN’s Buster Olney and Fox’s Ken Rosenthal both tweeted that the Indians are “heavily in” on Beltran, with the likes of Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Rays. According to Rosenthal, who did a great job with this piece, the Tribe is not scared of the asking price, which is said to be around $12 million per on a three-year deal.
Yet, outside of DH Travis Hafner, who will earn $13 million next season, the Indians’ commitments are relatively low – $34.2 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, plus between $20 million and $25 million in likely arbitration salaries. Beltran, then, could fit with a back-loaded contract.
That is a very good point brought by Rosenthal. After 2012, the Indians have Hafner, Sizemore, Fausto Carmona (if they please – team option for ’13), and Lowe all off the books. That is $31 million they will be shedding. That is why the talk of a Beltran deal would be back-loaded. Sure, they would take a hit this year, but in 2013 and 2014, there is a financial flexibility.
There are two things that cannot be overstated here:
1. The AL Central is still the easiest division to win. Yes, the Tigers will be the team to beat, but the Indians managed to hang around with a completely banged up lineup until the end of August. The Royals are young and improving, but their rotation is still a serious question mark. The Twins and the White Sox are both moving in the wrong direction.
2. The Indians window with the players they have currently is the next two years. They made the bold move to send their best two pitching prospects out to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez, who is under their control through 2013. The core of this team – Carlos Santana, Choo, Cabrera, Justin Masterson, Jimenez, and Chris Perez – are all entering or in their primes. You have top prospect Jason Kipnis ready to be a star. Add in the improving Michael Brantley, a deep bullpen, a solid one through five in the rotation, and you realize that the time for the Indians to make their move is now.
That is why adding Beltran would be so big for this team. Moving Beltran between left field and DH, but playing every day, would give the Indians a switch-hitting stud they could plug in between Choo and Santana in the lineup, and a a serious shift in the depth perception of this club. You can’t count on Sizemore and Hafner to stay healthy and having Beltran would give those two a ton of opportunities to rest. And Grady and Pronk could give Beltran a day or two off as well.
This would also lesson the pressure on Shelley Duncan, who if the season started today, would be the starting first baseman and the best right-handed bat option for the Tribe. Duncan is at his best when he isn’t exposed by playing too much. He excels as a right-handed pinch hitter and a starter against tough lefties.
Do I think this will actually happen? No, I don’t. I think the Indians are definitely serious about getting Beltran, but the Cardinals are now a desparate team in search of a big bat after losing Albert Pujols. The Blue Jays seem to be itching to make a big move and have money to spend. I just think the bidding will end up getting too high and the Tribe will have to bow out.
But I hope I am wrong. Take a look at what the Tribe’s everyday lineup would look like with Beltran:
1B Michael Brantley
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
RF Shin-Soo Choo
LF Carlos Beltran
C Carlos Santana
DH Travis Hafner
CF Grady Sizemore
2B Jason Kipnis
3B Jack Hannahan/Lonnie Chisenhall
Who wouldn’t like that????