MLB Free Agency Rumors: The Implications of Carlos Beltran to Boston

St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran
St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran
October 16 2013 Los Angeles CA USA St Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran 3 is congratulated after he scores a run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Championship Series baseball game at Dodger Stadium Robert Hanashiro USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest decisions facing the Red Sox this offseason is what to do for their third outfielder. Shane Victorino is under contract for two more years and Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava will still patrol left, but as of now, they still have one hole to fill.

That’s because Jacoby Ellsbury is a free agent. Though he would be welcomed back in Boston, it’s unlikely the Red Sox will give the 30-year-old Scott Boras client the necessary contract to do it. So general manager Ben Cherington will be looking elsewhere.

One option would be to promote prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr., their center fielder of the future. However, Cherington may prefer him to develop at Triple-A for another year or two. The Red Sox could also chase some free agent center fielders to bridge the gap between Ellsbury and Bradley.

It appears, though, that Cherington is aggresively heading in a different direction. There are reports that he is making a hard run at signing Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran.

A move like this would require moving Victorino to center field, but that flexibility was surely a factor in signing him to a three-year deal last offseason with the knowledge that Ellsbury may walk. While it isn’t easy to move someone who played right field in Fenway exceptionally well and won a Gold Glove, it wouldn’t be the worst thing, at least for him. Victorino has primarily been a center fielder during his career and has won two Gold Gloves at the position.

With Beltran in right, though, there is no doubt the outfield defense would suffer. He has won a couple Gold Gloves in the past, but those days are behind him. According to Fangraphs, in 2013 he had a -15.3 UZR, which takes into account his arm, range, and errors. A number that low qualifies as below Fangraphs’ “Awful” level. In comparison, Victorino had a 25.0 UZR in right field, which is 10 points higher than Fangraphs’ “Gold Glove Caliber” level.

However, adding Beltran to a Red Sox outfield with Victorino and Gomes/Nava would look pretty good offensively. During his 36-year-old season last year, Beltran showed little sign of aging. He made his second consecutive All-Star team and hit .296/.339/.491 with 30 doubles, 24 home runs, 84 RBI, and 79 runs. Even fighting through a rib injury he suffered in Game 1 of the World Series, he still managed to go 5-for-17 in the series with a .400 OBP.

While 2013 marked his third consecutive season playing in at least 142 games, the Red Sox would not be able to count on him playing in the field every day. He would be best suited to get in some work at DH, as well. As a switch hitter, he could take some at bats against left-handed pitchers, and give David Ortiz some rest, but that won’t sit well with the reigning World Series MVP.

On top of it, Beltran is seeking a three- or four-year deal, which is risky in itself. A deal like that could take him to his 40-year-old season. Though he is still productive now, making a high-dollar commitment to a star who would probably be on the verge of retirement would be more of a hindrance than an asset. If the two sides were able to agree to a deal in the two-year range, that would be much better for the team.

While it is still very early in the free agency process, it is clear there is some interest in bringing the All-Star to Boston. But there are many angles to consider for the Red Sox, assuming they are truly serious about signing him. And it won’t be long before we find out just how serious they are.

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Tony Consiglio
Tony Consiglio is a lifelong baseball fan and has worked for television and radio stations throughout New England. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');