There is nothing harder for a team or a player than trying to replace a legend. Had Albert Pujols re-signed with the Cardinals and spent the rest of his career in St. Louis, he may have retired as the greatest player in franchise history. No one could possibly fill those shoes.
Yet, general manager John Mozeliak and the Cardinals needed someone to step into the vacant spot in the middle of their lineup. They needed someone who would not be a laughing stock in comparison to Pujols, both in production and name recognition. And, ideally, they needed that someone to come at a reasonable price. Enter Carlos Beltran.
It’s hard to figure why the market for Beltran developed slower than it did for Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham. Sure, he turns 35 in April and comes with significant injury risk. But he’s also a consistent performer—one who hasn’t failed to reach 3.4 WARP in a healthy season since 1999. The risk, in this case, is well worth the potential reward.
At two years and $26 million, Beltran is a steal for the Cardinals. He was worth 3.4 WARP in 2011, or only 2.3 WARP fewer than Pujols, and will be guaranteed one-tenth his predecessor’s new contract value over one-fifth the term. He is a better hitter and fielder than Cuddyer, yet will be guaranteed just $2.5 million more in annual salary and only two years instead of three.
To say that Beltran fell into the Cardinals’ lap is an understatement. He would have fit well with the Red Sox, who offered the opportunity to spell David Ortiz at DH when he needed a rest from playing the outfield, but Boston could not squeeze Beltran into their payroll without surging past the luxury tax threshold. He would have made sense for the Giants, who traded their best pitching prospect for Beltran just months earlier, but San Francisco is saving its money in a “rainy day fund,” perhaps to eventually break the bank for Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain. He was a better option for the Rockies than Cuddyer, but GM Dan O’Dowd jumped the gun.
Cardinals fans certainly aren’t complaining. And there’s something oddly fitting about Beltran catching fly balls hit off of Adam Wainwright after their fateful, Game 7 meeting in 2006.