Fresh off a World Series that will have them thinking about so many missed opportunities, the St. Louis Cardinals shift their focus to the offseason and finding the missing pieces to get them over the hump.
The good news is the roster is stacked with great young stars like Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez, as well as an excellent core of veterans like Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. The team should be ready to make another deep run in 2014.
Then there is Carlos Beltran, a player at a crossroads on a team that would be justified in bringing him back or letting him walk.
Every conversation with Beltran starts with his performance in October, which has elevated him into lofty territory in the annals of Major League Baseball history.
But is that enough for the Cardinals to re-sign him?
It is easy to skew postseason numbers with one good year or series because the sample sizes are so small. Even with 51 career playoff games under his belt, Beltran has just 180 at-bats in October, roughly 33 percent of his 2013 regular-season total.
None of that is meant to denigrate Beltran's body of work, which is as good as you will find. Yet as time has caught up to him, the results have tailed off a bit, resulting in a .268/.388/.464 line in this year's playoffs, very much in line with what he did during the regular season.
Beltran had moments during the Cardinals' run to the World Series. He had a walk-off hit against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series and went 3-for-4 with one double and two RBIs in the decisive Game 6 with Clayton Kershaw starting.
There are reasons to be concerned about Beltran moving forward. Let's start with age, since he will turn 37 on April 24. Without the benefit of the designated hitter in the NL, it's asking a lot for the former All-Star to play the field 140-150 times per season.
Age has caught up to Beltran in each of his two seasons with the Cardinals. If you look at his overall production, it is difficult to see how time is catching up to him because the on-base and slugging percentages are nearly identical.
But look at how Beltran's numbers fall off the table in the second half as his aging body endures the daily grind of a long baseball season.
|1st Half 2012||.296||.382||.542||60-41|
|2nd Half 2012||.236||.302||.440||64-24|
|1st Half 2013||.309||.346||.533||60-18|
|2nd Half 2013||.277||.329||.429||30-20|
There has already been speculation about Beltran's impending free agency. Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported the Yankees have interest in him, and vice versa.
According to multiple sources, the Yankees could be in the market for an outfielder this winter as they look to add some pop to a lineup that finished next-to-last in the American League in home runs and 10th in runs scored.
A source familiar with Beltran’s thinking said the 36-year-old — he’ll turn 37 in April — would be interested in a potential move to the Bronx, where he could step in as the primary right fielder while getting some turns as the designated hitter to keep his body fresh.
The Yankees' outfield situation being the mess it is, Beltran would be an upgrade. But if I were the Cardinals, knowing a team might be willing to offer a soon-to-be 37-year-old two or three years, I'd thank him for his services the last two years and let him walk.
This is not a decision made lightly, but one that comes out of practical thinking. The Cardinals have proven they are the best team in the National League and one of the best in baseball.
Look at the way their roster is constructed right now. All the core players are under team control past 2014.
|Matt Holliday||2016 (Team Option for 2017)|
|Yadier Molina||2017 (Team Option for 2018)|
|Allen Craig||2017 (Team Option for 2018)|
|Lance Lynn||Arbitration Eligible Through 2017|
|Matt Carpenter||Arbitration Eligible Through 2017|
|Shelby Miller||Arbitration Elgible Through 2018|
|Trevor Rosenthal||Arbitration Eligible Through 2018|
|Carlos Martinez||Arbitration Eligible Through 2019|
|Michael Wacha||Arbitration Eligible Through 2020|
|Kolten Wong||Arbitration Eligible Through 2020|
Cot's Baseball Contracts
When you have that kind of flexibility, the Cardinals can do whatever they want and know they will be fine.
Also complicating matters for Beltran in St. Louis is the presence of star prospect Oscar Taveras, yet another impact youngster in a system that's already churned out so many of those in the last two years.
Taveras, 21, started 2013 with Triple-A Memphis and would have played in the big leagues by the end of the year had he not suffered an ankle injury that required surgery in August. He was hampered all season.
What should the Cardinals do about RF in 2014?
With a full offseason to recover, the Cardinals can slot Taveras into Beltran's old spot in right field next April, if they want. It's also possible the team will let him get more reps in Triple-A before calling him up in June or July, delaying his service-time clock.
A naturally gifted hitter with an impeccable feel for the strike zone, power and a Vladimir Guerrero-like ability to hit anything and everything thrown around the plate, Taveras has superstar written all over him.
My B/R colleague Mike Rosenbaum had Taveras ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball at the end of the minor league season.
Left-handed hitter who employs a powerful yet balanced swing; keeps bat head in the zone for an extended period of time; strong hands, forearms; always gets head through the zone. Outstanding plate coverage; successful even when forced to muscle the ball. Began to tap into his power last season against advanced competition.
The Cardinals don't have many needs, but plugging Taveras in at right field and using some of their depth at other positions, notably on the pitching side, they can upgrade the black hole at shortstop by making a trade.
Beltran is expendable for the Cardinals no matter how you slice it; I don't care what postseason numbers or narratives say about him. The Cardinals will be great one way or the other in 2014.
If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.