A blog dedicated to the New York Mets with some other baseball thrown in.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Sizing Up the Competition

With the Beltran sweepstakes coming to a head this week and the Mets news relatively show it seemed like a good as time as every to do a Beltran primer and look at all the teams rumored to be interested and what they can offer.

The Houston Chronicle points out some accomplishments by Carlos Beltran.

Beltran's postseason excellence caught the baseball world's attention, and he has 12 Major League Baseball and Astros franchise records to show for it. He holds the postseason record for consecutive games with at least one run (10), consecutive games with a home run (five), postseason runs (21) and League Championship Series runs (12).

He shares the single postseason record for home runs (eight with Bonds in 2002); extra-base hits (11 with Bonds, 2002); total bases (47 with Troy Glaus in 2002); and consecutive games with extra-base hits (seven with Devon White in 1993).

Although he has played in only one postseason series compared to five each by Astros icons Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, Beltran is easily the franchise career postseason-record holder for home runs, RBIs, runs and total bases.

Aside from the postseason, he did pretty well in his short stint with the Astros in the regular season.

In his span with the Astros, Beltran led the team in runs (70), home runs (23), slugging percentage (.559), stolen bases (28) and extra-base hits (47).

Beltran, who has had 100 RBIs and 100 runs in five of his past six seasons, is the only player in baseball history to compile four consecutive seasons with at least 20 home runs, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 30 stolen bases.

As the article also points out, Scott Boras has made elegant binders to remind people of Beltran's accomplishments so far and the milestones he may accomplish like the 500 homer / 500 stolen base club. Where he will go will the next question. He claims he wants to get paid but being on team that is built to win for the next decade is paramount over anything.

That certainly makes the situation a bit more interesting. We all know he has an affinity for Houston but Jeff Bagwell will be usurping a substantial amount of payroll until 2007 and Andy Petite is making a whole lot of money and needs to come a long way to prove he's worth the $26 million he is still owed by the Astros. They may only have Clemens for one more season and they will have to bring back Oswalt in two years and Lance Berkman after one more season. They lost Wade Miller and have just about no help on a farm system that included John Buck and Jason Lane that was ranked 29th out of the entire majors. They no longer have them in the farm system and have Taylor Buchholz and Carlos Hernandez as their most promising young pitchers. Buchholz's first exposure to AAA was not encouraging and still has a lot to prove. He never posted below a 3.29 ERA above Rookie ball and has a 2.69 career K/BB ratio with a 1.26 career WHIP. That is not exactly a dominant minor league pitcher and while he is still solid pitching prospect, he is nothing to put your future hopes on. As for Carlos Hernandez, he has yet to stay healthy and was largely unimpressive in his short stint in 2004. What about the fact there are no income taxes in Texas? Well whatever team outbids the Astros will need to do it by a million dollars per year or they will simply have to offer the same but add another year to the contract. That would only be a deal breaker if the Astros and whomever they are bidding against had the same number of years and the same amount of dollars.

The Cubs can certainly offer a chance to win for the long term and a cozy park to hit in while boasting the best farm system out of any team rumored to be interested in Beltran. It is said that pitching wins championships (just ask the 2004 Yankees) and they have plenty of pitching on the major league and minor league level as well as a pretty good outfield prospect in Felix Pie. The did lose Andy Sisco and Francisco Beltran over the past year, but they are still the atop everyone supposidly pursuing Beltran in terms of the farm system. They resigned Glendon Rusch for their fifth spot in the rotation for $2,000,000, they brought in Henry Blanco for $1,350,000 per year to be Greg Maddux's personal catcher, picked up Ryan Dempster's option, got Garciaparra for the bargain price of $8 million, got Todd Hollandsworth for $900,000, Neifi Perez for $1,000,000, Todd Walker for $2,500,000, and need one more outfielder to solidify their team. Basically, signing Beltran brings them up to roughly $100,000,000 for this season and they lose Sammy's $17 million in 2006. They certainly may be able to afford Beltran but it is unclear how much the Cubs are willing to spend and if the Tribune Company is willing to go the extra mile or just take their chances on Magglio or settle for Jeromy Burntiz since they have a capable center fielder already. They certainly could be a nice fit and would have a pretty athletic outfield with Corey Patterson and Carlos Beltran roaming Wrigley with two young infielders in Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the infield who can produce 120 homers amongst the four of them for years to come.

Then there are the Detroit Tigers. I'm not even going to get into this one since it is obvious they would have to significantly outbid everyone and actually get close to the 10 year / $200 million number for him to go there. Their team, while certainly improved since 2003, is a few arms and a bat away from being competitive in the AL Central and have failed to bring in any more marquee names after Troy Percival was signed early this off season and signing Derek Lowe will not be their answer to being a serious contender in the Central even if they added Beltran. They still have I-Rod as their main attraction and the willingness to spend some cash, but they would have a long way to go before they can get Beltran. Their farm system is not exactly strong even though that have few nice arms down there. If they sign him, it would certainly be a cold day in hell and Beltran would not be basing his decision on being a sustained winner.

As for the Yankees, their farm system sucks, but who cares? They have no use for their farm system except to trade them mid season to bolster their club in whatever area they failed to take care of with their enormous payroll. To fill that need they have managed to retain Eric Duncan in spite of the Randy Johnson deal and he will be fodder to fill in whatever hole they have come the trading deadline. I'm sure everyone is hoping he has a breakout season in 2005 to pump up his value. If Carlos is looking for a sustained winner and a shot to be in the playoffs year after year, he's found his place. George has the dedication (or deep pockets...whatever) to win but the Yankees have some negatives. Forget the fact he will not even be the marquee name, but their all business persona seems to suck the life out of players and seems to diminish the fun they are having on the field (i.e. Jason Giambi). This past off season you could see the Red Sox were seemingly having more fun and it comes across on the field and while watching the game on TV. Also, plenty of other stars have been there and have been turned into junk whether it be under the pressure or just on off year. Ask Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras if they would sign there again. A bad year could have the boss stating in the NY newspapers "this is not the guy we thought were signing" just as he did with Hideki Matsui in 2003. There is no room for error and everything will be magnified while with the Yankees much more than any other team including the Mets. The question that everything boils down to is whether or not Carlos thinks he will be 100% comfortable in the eye of the storm? Not only that, but their pitching staff is far from a sure thing. Outside of Johnson, the entire staff could have ERAs over 4.50. Mussina is way overpaid and underproductive at this point, Pavano and Wright have only posted under a 4.21 ERA three times in a combined 15 years of major league service and could be in for a very rude awakening in the AL East pitching against some highly charged offensive teams in small ballparks, and Kevin Brown is an unmitigated disaster. Their rotation could be a huge letdown. The Mets rotation may very well end up looking much better by the end of the 2005 season. There is also speculation of how high the Yankees will be willing to go with their payroll. I played around with some numbers in my post on Friday and it boils down to whether or not the Yankees are willing to go to $220 million for 2005 and 2006 and who knows how much in the years beyond that as their luxury tax just keeps getting steeper. For every dollar they are over this season it is taxed at a whopping 40%. A $16,000,000 deal for Beltran means an additional $6,400,000 in luxury taxes. The Yankees have yet to formally make an offer but could be waiting for the final hour to make an offer to trump everyone else’s or may simply be waiting past the 8th on the idea Beltran and Boras are waiting for their offer and will simply have Houston drop out by making Beltran choose past the deadline of the 8th. Who really knows? One thing is clear though, this team does not need him. They finished 1st in 2002 in runs scored, 4th in 2003, and 2nd in 2004. They may want him in an effort to get younger since they stand to have no starter under 30 in the field, but they surely do not need him and whether not a team truly needs them is something that may be important to him.

That leaves our Mets. It has been documented time and time again why they would be a fit in various places. They actually need him in addition to wanting him, they are a very multi-cultural clubhouse and front office may be enticing as the Mets are the only team chasing Carlos that can offer that, they can afford to be big players in the free agent market year after year which is only something the Yankees can offer outside the Mets of the team pursuing him, they have some young major league ready stars in Reyes, Wright, and Diaz which is something that only the Cubs can boast in terms of surrounding him with youth, they still have some solid minor league talents on the way, and he could be the marquee attraction which is something every other team but the Yankees cannot offer. Signing Beltran would be business as usual with Yankees. The Mets could certainly build around him and have the youth to in Diaz, Wright, Reyes, and Milledge to support him in the field and have one of the best pitching staffs in the NL with Humber, Petit, Hernandez, Durkin, Hyde, Keppel, and Soler on the horizon in terms of arms. With money to spend in the free agent market, a new network, and a core of young and solid prospects on the way, Beltran can help be a huge part in a Mets team that could be on the cusp of being competitive for ten years and being competitive as soon as 2005 in a weak NL East. Believe it or not, the Mets have the rotation to be in every game and if they address their offensive needs, they can make some noise.

If I were Beltran the Cubs would be first on my list. If they actually submit an offer and are in the same ballpark in terms of their contract offer they are such a perfect fit and a ideal landing spot for him due to their young core of players on the team now combined with the strongest farm system out of any other interested team, the fact they play in a large market, and the friendliness of Wrigley to hitters (problem is no one knows if they will actually submit an offer). After that, I'd truly pick the Mets. The talented youth they have and the ones on the verge of contributing, their TV network, their need for his marquee name as a main attraction, and their multicultural organization are terrific fits. Omar can turn this team into a sustained winner and I'll guarantee the Mets will be more competitive than the Astros in 2007 through 2014 with or without Beltran while the Astros will be struggling. Next would be the Yankees if they actually submit an offer. For the only reason they are competitive every year like Beltran wants but a lot of their players will all turn geriatric pretty soon (a lot of them are geriatric already too) and they will have Mt. Fuji size contracts that cannot be moved. Maybe Carlos will be looking for a more youthful and energetic team. As for the Astros, they will not be contenders year in and year out. They've had great run of not finishing any where less than 2nd place since 1994. But they are starting to look really old and will need to shell out huge dollars to keep Oswalt and Berkman when the time comes and it is coming soon. The Astros would have two or three good chances at being a playoff team if they sign Beltran, but they need to revamp their farm system and keep some soon to be high priced players while replacing two future Hall of Famers in Bagwell and Biggio. The Tigers would be last on my list for obvious reasons. Call me crazy, but that's how it would shake out for me and I do realize I'm a bit slanted towards my favorite team, but that is the way I see it and that is how I see everyone being a fit for Beltran in terms of his desire to be competitive for a long time combined with an atmosphere that he make be comfortable in.

Besides, the Mets have a wild card in Omar Minaya who is the only GM that can speak to Beltran in his own language. Believe it or not, that matters to some people and it could help in this case. Beyond that, Omar seems to have the loyalty of many players who have been part of the organizations he has been in and remains loyal, albeit a bit too loyal in some cases, to them today despite some bad years and remains optimistic in their abilities. He has also publicly came out and stood behind his new second baseman in Kaz Matsui saying he deserves another chance to prove he is the player everyone thought he was instead of throwing him under the bus like Steinbrenner did to Hideki Matsui in 2003 despite all the adjustments he had to make. Or the way he could not wait to get rid of Contreras despite the adjustments and difficulties he was going through. Baseball is a business, I understand that. The business is to win and along the way you will hit some bumps in the road and have some disappointments with some players but there are ways to handle things with tact. I may be naive, but loyalty and honesty are still important to some people and I do not know Beltran and I do not know how those things weigh in his mind but I can say with a lot of certainly Omar will back is man now and seven years down the line no matter what and remain loyal. That cannot be said for the team and the front office in the Bronx.


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