I was sitting courtside at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis last December, watching the Missouri Tigers and Illinois Illini warm up for their Braggin’ Rights game, when I first got word. The Cardinals were going to sign free agent Carlos Beltran. My first thought was, “Good move. They’re finding a bat to try to come close to replacing Albert Pujols,” who just two weeks prior shocked Cardinals’ nation by flying west to LA to join the Angels. Then I heard the numbers floated around…Two years, $26 million and the agent was that finalized the deal for Beltran was Dan Lazano. The same Dan Lazano who just orchestrated the Pujols winter migration. My second thought…“They’re crazy. They overpaid.”
Not only was Lazano able to pull off the ten year deal for Pujols that will be paying him $30,000,000 when he is 41, he then went back to the Cardinals, who must have had their egos bruised, and got them to overpay for Beltran for the next two years, by getting $13 million per year for his client.
Clearly, the Cardinals could not afford, nor were they willing to pay that much for an older Pujols so we won’t go down that road again, but most thought the club pulled off one helluva deal when they inked Beltran to fill that spot in the batting order. However, in a straight comparison of the numbers, after a slow start, Pujols has been producing while the All-Star, Beltran, is fading…and Beltran is making $1 million more this year than Pujols.
If you’re curious, as of today, Sept. 11, Pujols has played two more games (134-132) compared to Beltran, but has 151 hits to 128. Pujols has more doubles (42-23), tied with homers at 29 each and has seven more RBIs (94-87). On top of that, Pujols has raised his average to .287 while Beltran sits at .262. Beltran has hit just .203 since July 1 and has just nine homers in the that time. Beltran hit 10 homers in the month of May, alone.
However, this story is really not about Pujols vs. Beltran. It has to do with why the Cardinals (in my opinion) overpaid when there didn’t appear to be any other teams seriously vying for him or who would have been in the market for anything over $10 million. When Beltran was producing and made the All-Star team and team was playing well in the first half of the season, it looked like my gut feelings in December were wrong. As the season winds down this final month, with the Cardinals clinging to a one game lead in the Wild Card, I wanted to see what had the Cardinals so convinced they needed to pay that much for Beltran.
Let’s compare Beltran to the other top three big outfield free agent signings this past offseason. Michael Cuddyer, of Colorado, is making an average $10.5 million per year for the next three years and has hit .260 with 16 homers in just 101 games, and is on the DL. Cuddyer was coming off a year in which he led the Twins in hits (150), runs scored (70), doubles (29), home runs (20) and walks (48) during what was his first career All-Star season, in 2011. Arizona’s Jason Kubel, making $7.5 million this year, has the same average and number of homers (.262/29) with one fewer RBI than Beltran. Minnesota’s Josh Willingham, hitting in pitcher friendly Target Field, and has 33 homers with 102 RBIs and is hitting .261 and is making $7 million this season.
All numbers are comparable or better than Beltran’s who is making nearly twice as much! Before the Beltran signing was announced on December 23, 2011, Willingham (12/15), Cuddyer (12/16) and Kubel (12/19) all appeared to have agreed to their deals before Beltran, according to BaseballReference.com.
So why did the Cardinals sign Beltran for that much money? What other teams were in the market for a 35 year old outfielder, and would have been willing to pay nearly twice as much as the next best free agent outfielders? The Red Sox were locked into an arbitration battle with David Ortiz. The Yankees picked up an option on Nick Swisher and resigned Andruw Jones. The Giants weren’t in the market for Beltran after they rented him out for the end of the 2011 season. The Dodgers were battling in divorce court. The Cubs were rebuilding, and Detroit signed Prince Fielder. In my estimation, there was no other team with pockets deep enough. Lazano duped the Cardinals. He dangled Pujols, before he shipped him to LA and 15 days later, before the Cardinals could catch their collective breath, got them to overreact and overpay for his other client Beltran.
The Cardinals are basically paying the same type of money the Mets were on the line for in 2006 and 2007 (salary just under $14 million), when Beltran averaged .274 with 37 homers and 114 RBIs over those two seasons. His numbers are off and he will come up short this season.
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