New York Yankees Editorial: The Carlos Beltran Problem

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It is difficult to know how a baseball player will age. Signing veterans is always a bit of a lottery. When the New York Yankees signed veteran Carlos Beltran to a three-year $45 million contract they may have lost this lottery. He is due $15 million this season and $15 million in 2016. After a disappointing 2014 season, he has not been playing like a $15 million player this season either.

Beltran was placed on the DL with a strained oblique on July 3, but he has been playing in rehab games this week and could come off the DL soon possibly as early as Sunday. Beltran went 2-2 with the Class A Tampa Yankees  in his rehab game on Wednesday, a reminder that he is still a threat at the plate.

The biggest problem is that while Beltran has been relatively productive at the plate with a slash line of .260/.309/.470 he has been a liability in the field and on the base paths. Essentially at this point in his career Beltran is a DH at best, perhaps even a pinch hitter at worst. The Yankees already have a DH, a young man named Alex Rodriguez who has been giving the Yankees All-Star production from the DH spot. So, what should the Yankees do with Beltran?

Ryan Hatch of NJ.com says the Yankees have been starting Beltran and using Chris Young  in spot starts or as a defensive replacement late in games, and proposes that the Yankees switch these roles. He says start Young and use Beltran as an offensive replacement off the bench. He cites Beltran’s atrocious defense and his inability to negotiate the base paths as his justification for this move.

Hatch isn’t wrong. Defensively, Beltran is the 17th out 20 qualifying right fielders in baseball. He has a decent arm and can still throw, but he looks awkward and slow and has difficulty getting to catchable balls. He doesn’t not have many errors– only three–but he often cannot make the play when he should turning outs into hits and allowing runners to advance.  On offense, he has a similar problem. He is hitting, but once he gets on base he isn’t likely to score. He is not a threat to steal bases, and has difficulty scoring from second. He has struggled to score in legitimate scoring opportunities. A more mobile runner would likely have scored in those situations.

Jun 27, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Chris Young (24) celebrates after hitting a two run home-run against the Houston Astros in the second inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Hatch’s idea to play Young more seems like a sort of complicated way of saying that the Yankees should use Beltran as fourth or even fifth outfielder and a pinch hitter. Beltran is a switch-hitter which would make him a good candidate for a pinch hitter. But, it might be difficult to justify keeping his bat on the bench as he has been productive with 7 home runs and 18 doubles this season, so far.

Another solution would be to use a more traditional platoon situation with Beltran and Young. Young does not hit right-handed pitching well he is batting a paltry .180. But, he is actually brilliant against left-handed pitching batting an outstanding .354 against lefties.  Young is an above average fielder, and brings youth and mobility that Beltran just doesn’t have any more. Whatever the Yankees decide, it seems like batting Young against lefties should be part of the plan.

The best case scenario for the Yankees is unlikely to happen. Arguably, Beltran’s value in baseball is as a DH. The best solution would be to trade Beltran to a team who needs a DH. Of course the problem with this idea is that this is a pretty limited market. In fact, it may be a one team market: The Los Angeles Angels. The Angels (48-40) are in first place in the AL West and with the trade of Josh Hamilton they could use a bat like Beltran’s. They are currently using rookie CJ Cron .269/.294/.421 at DH. But a trade may be unlikely as they have also recently had a shakeup in the front office when GM Gerry Dipoto resigned and was replaced with interim GM Bill Stoneman making the Angels a team that may not be in the market to conduct deals; or at least, not at this trade deadline.

The most unlikely solution is one that would solve the problem, but that would be extremely difficult. The Yankees could cut their losses and bench Beltran, or even release the veteran outfielder. Having Beltran off the field and off the bases would benefit the Yankees, but no one likes to be wrong, and with a player of Beltran’s caliber there is always the hope that somehow he will bounce back. Again, this is unlikely, and possibly even an overreaction considering the value of Beltran’s bat.

Beltran is playing in minor league games, and appears ready to return. What do you think the Yankees should do with the aging switch-hitter? Keep him in right field? Put him in a platoon with Young? Use him as a pinch hitter? Try to trade him? Something else? Let us know in the comment below.