One of the expected, yet disappointing offseason moves the St. Louis Cardinals made was the decision to let outfielder Carlos Beltran go to the New York Yankees without putting up much of a fight. The club only made a courtesy qualifying offer to extract a draft pick, and Beltran did as expected and took a much better offer. The course of the season for these two teams may well be determined by this turn of events.
Though Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has been rewarded for his success with a contract extension through 2018, that success was predicated upon deep runs into the playoffs and a 2011 World Championship. The key components on these teams were veteran leadership, guile, grit and mental toughness. On these counts, no player in the game meets the standards of these metrics more than Beltran. One of the questions that Cardinal fans asked is were the Cardinals doing this as strictly a money saving move or did they truly believe the trade-off for Matt Adams at first and Allen Craig in right improved the club?
The deeper question, if you assume the Cardinals are going to make the playoffs, is are they better come playoff time? The Cardinals obviously are not a team like the Milwaukee Brewers, who despite their hot start, have fanbases and expectations that involve the club making the playoffs as a measure of success, not necessarily winning world championships. With Craig healthy in 2013, the Cardinals were among the most potent offenses in the game, but Craig is so limited defensively his Fangraphs WAR still only amounted to 2.6 wins. For Beltran’s part, he contributed a 2.0 WAR. Thus far this season Craig has been an abject disaster, batting only .105. Adams has been stellar at the plate, posting a .326 AVG but with limited power.
Beltran, on the other hand, has excelled early on with the Yankees. Batting .311 with a .933 OPS, he would currently be the third most productive player on the on the Cardinals, exceeded only by 2B Matt Carpenter and catcher Yadier Molina. It is early in the year and the sample sizes are small, but few believe the Cardinals, with Adams at first and Craig in right, are improved defensively. It is highly unlikely either one of them individually will approach even the average historical production of Beltran.
This means that even if Beltran has a normal season by his standards, it will still probably exceed the production of either Craig or Adams at their best. Though earlier I myself said Beltran was starting to resemble a player in his late 30s, I may have made too much of the early season results. One must remember the rule of Hall of Fame talents — they generally perform like Hall-of-Famers.
At three years and $45 million, the Yankees were accused of overpaying Beltran for what was thought to be declining production. But though Mozeliak eschewed such a price for Beltran, he went out on a limb for Jhonny Peralta, a shortstop with a dubious history and merely decent production, by signing him for four years and $53 million. Peralta is currently batting .111.
One might refer to that transaction the price of desperation. Cardinal fans expect the profits of managerial investment to result in pennants and championships, so if these moves fail a September demise might be the game’s biggest October surprise.