On the path to a World Series title, the Boston Red Sox showed the ability to hit in the biggest moments on the October stage. If their free-agency blueprint stays on course, a deep, clutch lineup will soon be even more dangerous.
According to George A. King III of the New York Post, the Red Sox are strongly interested in bringing the 36-year-old Carlos Beltran to Fenway Park.
Just weeks after a parade in Boston, the champions are facing an offseason of question marks. From qualifying offers to Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli and Jacoby Ellsbury, to free-agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a fourth of the lineup that helped win a World Series could be different by spring training.
Although Beltran is in decline, he's a perfect free-agent fit for the Boston Red Sox due to the insurance his unique skill set provides a roster. As the free-agent period begins, adding Carlos Beltran to the Red Sox would protect them from losing one or more of their 2013 contributors.
Unlike second-division clubs, Boston doesn't need a franchise-changing player to walk through the door this winter. Led by Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Shane Victorino and the emerging Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox simply need complementary talent to ensure a carryover of success.
One year ago, Boston's front office, led by general manager Ben Cherington, sought out quality second-tier offensive pieces to add to a solid core in Boston's lineup. The same principles that led to short-term pacts with Victorino and Napoli can serve as a base for a potential deal with Carlos Beltran this winter.
At this juncture of his career, Beltran isn't a difference-making player from April through September, but he's good enough to enhance any lineup in baseball with switch-hitting ability, power and defensive reputation.
Don't downplay the significance of Beltran's ability to hit from both sides of the plate when considering why teams will be eager to give a 36-year-old a two- or three-year deal this winter.
From Boston to New York to Baltimore, front offices understand what good switch-hitting ability can add to a lineup. If the Red Sox bring Beltran aboard, he would instantly replace the dynamic lost if Saltalamacchia departs for another team. The combination of Shane Victorino and Beltran would work perfectly with the righty-lefty combination of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz in the middle of Boston's 2014 lineup.
With uncertainty hanging over the return of first baseman Mike Napoli, Boston's roster needs an infusion of power to pair with David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup. This past season, Napoli hit 23 home runs. With power down around the game, placing a 23-homer bat behind David Ortiz in the regular lineup afforded the team with adequate protection for their star. Although Beltran isn't the slugger that averaged 30 home runs per season from 2002 to 2007, he's coming off a 24-homer campaign in St. Louis.
|Slugger vs. Slugger: Beltran vs. Napoli (2008-2013)|
|Year||Beltran HR||Napoli HR|
If Beltran does ink his name on a contract in Boston, don't expect Red Sox president Larry Lucchino to talk up his defense during a press conference in Fenway Park. According to Baseball-Reference's Defensive Runs Saved statistic, provided by Baseball Info Solutions, Beltran cost St. Louis six runs in the field in 2013, continuing a trend of DRS numbers that have been negative since 2011. The Gold Glove-winning center fielder of old is gone, replaced by an older, slower Beltran, who will need to see time at designated hitter as the years move on.
Despite those facts, there's value in what Beltran's past and present bring to the table on defense.
With Shane Victorino proving his worth in Boston's right field, the Red Sox can experiment with an outfield, from left to right, of Beltran, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Shane Victorino in spring training. Asking Bradley Jr. to effectively replace Jacoby Ellsbury's defense in center field won't be easy, but surrounding him with former star center fielders will help ease the transition.
Beltran in left field would be a transition, but asking him to cover less ground—due to the short distance of the Green Monster—would help his knees for 81 games per season. Plus, if Manny Ramirez could survive in Fenway Park's left field, Beltran can excel.
As WEEI.com's Rob Bradford cited, Beltran would cost Boston a draft pick, due to St. Louis placing a one-year qualifying offer on him. The pick, plus the imperfect nature of replacing Ellsbury's center field glove with another corner outfielder, along with already having corner outfielders like Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes, makes a potential Beltran signing less than ideal.
Bradford's thought process is fair, but it doesn't extend to everything else Beltran could protect the Red Sox from in the free-agent process. Switch-hitting ability, power and defensive flexibility are commodities that rarely come together as a package deal. In Beltran, they accompany one of the most respected clutch hitters in the sport.
If that's not enough to convince Red Sox nation, signing the potential Cooperstown-bound star would keep him away from division rivals in New York and Baltimore.