May 13, 2004
Wheel of Beltran
This was supposed to be a lead that talked about my grandmother, who died in 1992, her love of game shows and my love of her. It didn't work, so I ditched it.
But man, I miss her.
See, I got to thinking about Nana because there's an interesting game show developing in MLB these days. With the Kansas City Royals playing down to their talent level, it's becoming clear that they'll have little reason to keep Carlos Beltran through the end of the year, after which they'll lose him as a free agent. (No one, anywhere, thinks he'll re-sign with the Royals.) Beltran has become one of the top 10 players in the game, a complete package of offense, defense and speed. He's going to break the bank as a free agent, and is one of the few players in the trade market with the potential to change a race.
So the game of "Center Fielder!" consists of finding potential suitors for Beltran and creating trade possibilities, blockbusters, with the Royals and those teams.
No game show can have 29 contestants, so let's narrow the field. Because Beltran is almost certain to press his luck in the market after the season, the teams who might be asked to come on down, first and foremost, are the ones trying to improve their chance of a championship in 2004. Realistically, this eliminates about half of MLB: the Orioles, Devil Rays, Blue Jays, Indians, Tigers, Rangers, Expos, Brewers, Pirates, Reds, Rockies, Mets, Mariners and Diamondbacks. Some of those teams find themselves over .500 right now, but they're unlikely to be making major moves by the trade deadline. Of these teams, only the Rangers and Mets are in jeopardy of moving off this list, the latter only because they might see it as an opportunity to get a two-month head start on signing him.
The team trading for Beltran has to have space in its outfield to accommodate him. Note that this doesn't necessarily have to be center field; any contender would be well advised to replace its weakest link with Beltran. Teams that don't seem to be able to pass this test include the Angels, Braves, Astros, Cubs and Phillies. The Angels' many outfield injuries may put them in the market eventually. The Astros certainly could use Beltran, but seem committed to Craig Biggio, rationality be damned.
Beltran isn't making a ton of money this season, just $9 million, so teams don't have to be high rollers to make a play for him. He'll cost $3 million at the trade deadline, and an additional $750,000 for each week before that. Teams looking to trade for him have to be willing to take on that much salary in a deal. As far as I can tell, only the Marlins and Twins seem unlikely to do so, and even that's a bit of a guess. I'll eliminate them based on a combination of this and the previous guideline.
Twenty-one teams down...Perhaps the most important trait is that teams looking to trade for Beltran have to be able to cobble together a package of talent that pries him loose from the Royals. This probably leaves the Yankees, Cardinals, Giants and Red Sox flailing; none of them have the necessary close-to-the-majors or low-service-time talent, particularly in position players, that the Royals will demand.
I've written about the Yankees' edge in the trade market, the one they leveraged in acquiring Alex Rodriguez, where their revenue advantage allows them to add onerous contracts in order to make trades that other teams cannot. That doesn't apply here; Beltran's contract isn't a bad one, and the Royals don't have bad ones that the Yankees could take off their hands as part of a Beltran deal. While all four of these teams--well, perhaps not the Cardinals--will be after Beltran in the free-agent market, none seem able to pick him up before then.
These four rules eliminate 25 of the 29 teams, leaving the White Sox, A's, Dodgers and Padres. Taking them in order:
If the Royals are going to trade Beltran, a deal that could go down as the sale of the century, the best matches they're going to find are in the home of game shows, California. Which of these three teams is willing and able to pull the trigger on a deal will be rewarded with two to three months of greatness, and just may be the postseason's survivor.