The Kansas City Royals have interest in Carlos Beltran. And that may be understating it, as Jon Heyman recently tabbed the Royals as a "serious threat" to land the 36-year-old veteran, who has a three-year, $48 million offer on the table from a "mystery" team--take it for what it’s worth.
Now, the Royals did acquire Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki on Thursday, leaving them with no obvious vacancies, at least in the outfield. Alex Gordon is slated to occupy left field, Lorenzo Cain in center and Aoki in right--not a glaring hole in that bunch.
But the Royals don’t see it that way. And that’s all that matters, really. Here’s Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal with the news...
#Royals’ acquisition of Aoki does not change anything in their pursuit of Beltran. They still want him.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 5, 2013
In another tweet, Rosenthal goes on to suggest that a Billy Butler trade seems more likely, if Beltran does indeed sign on with the Royals. Trading Butler would then open up a spot for Beltran, most likely as a designated hitter with some occasional starts in right field. Or...Aoki could slide over to center field to replace Cain, who’s a darn good defensive center fielder but an offensive liability (79 wRC+ in 2013).
So indeed, there are multiple scenarios. For now, though, let’s just stick with what we know: The Royals want Beltran. A lot.
Which makes a ton of sense on the surface. Simply going off of wRC+, the Royals were owners of baseball’s sixth-worst offense in 2013. If you prefer wOBA, it’s just a smidge more generous, claiming they were ninth-worst.
And if you’re still not convinced that Kansas City’s offense was bad, I refer you to this:
You might’ve guessed it: Those are indeed the paltry numbers Royals right fielders produced in 2013.
I target right field, of course, because that’s where would Beltran slot--I know, throwing Beltran into the Royals' fold makes a heck of a mess on paper, but let’s just pencil him in for some consistent action in right field. That is, again, assuming he signs with the Royals--keep this caveat in mind.
Should that become a reality, the phrase "massive upgrade" quickly comes to mind. Offensively, you’re replacing a 85 wRC+ with Beltran, who has averaged a 133 wRC+ since 2010--fifth-best mark among right fielders. Connect the dots.
Don’t be mistaken, the recently added Aoki also qualifies as an upgrade. He posted a solid 104 wRC+ in 2013, and Steamer projects him to bump that up to 110 in 2014. Put another way: If the Royals were to stand pat, they’d be in a better position when it comes to right field.
There's more to it than just offense, though. That means defense, and to put it lightly: Beltran just isn’t a good defensive right fielder. By UZR’s reckoning, he was the worst defensive right fielder in baseball last year, and since 2010, he has been the second-worst.
And in this case, the Royals would be going from league-best defense in right field to league-worst defense. It’s similar to the effect Beltran’s bat would have, except the Royals wouldn’t be reaping any positive gains.
Along with Beltran’s negative glove, you could make a legitimate case that his bat is declining--of course, we already knew that Beltran was declining. He is 36, after all. Even the best hitters see their production dip as they age.
But there is one particular trend that’s a bit concerning--Beltran’s O-Swing%. It’s been rising steadily since 2009, and in turn, his strikeout and walk numbers have spun in different directions--not in a good way either.
So yeah, Beltran has been swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone at a more frequent rate than he has in recent years. Hence the reason why his strikeouts are up and his walks are down. Simple logic, really.
At the same time, I’m dubious to put too much credence into Beltran’s growing tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. For one, his O-Swing percentages since 2009 aren’t excessively high. Sure, they do look high in comparison to what Beltran has done, but really, they’re right around or a few ticks above league average. Plus, Beltran is still making plenty of solid contact, as he had a 23.9% LD% in 2013, which surpasses his previous career-high of 22.1%. He can still hit.
But ... is he worth the $16 million a year a three-year, $48 million deal would earn him? Well, no. At the current price of one win (about $7 million), Beltran would have to be worth nearly seven wins over the life of a three-year pact worth $48 million.
The Steamer Projection System projects him to be worth 1.8 wins in 2013. Oliver, another projection system, is a bit more kind, projecting him to be worth 2.2 wins in 2014. But it all goes downhill from there, as you’ll see below (I’ll include 2017 in case he gets an option of some type for a fourth year).
These projections aren’t perfect, but no, Beltran wouldn’t sniff the seven-win target. Even if he was worth two wins (what he was worth in 2013) over the next three years, he’d fall short of the target total.
Well, it means that the Royals are better off saving the cash and sticking with what they have. And what they have isn’t terribly bad after adding Aoki. They’ll be able to cope.
Think about it.
You have Cain, while offensively inept, is projected to produce 2.6 wins in 2014 by Steamer and 3.4 by Oliver. That would essentially make him equivalent to the 2013 version of Denard Span, which isn’t that bad. And it would also make him worth more than Beltran. The big difference: Being a pre-arbitration guy, Cain is dirt cheap.
Aoki, meanwhile, is projected to be worth 1.8 wins by Steamer and 3.1 by Oliver. You already know the story here: He is going to be a considerable offensive upgrade over what the Royals threw out in right field in 2013.
And there’s Alex Gordon, whose wRC+ is projected to rise from 103 to 116 by Steamer’s reckoning. In all, he’s projected to be worth 3.5 wins (3.7 by Oliver) in 2014.
It’s not a horribly bad trio for the affordable price. Gordon, if the projections are right, will easily surpass the value of the $10 million he’s set to make in 2014. Aoki, making just under $2 million, should be a bargain too, as should Cain.
Then there’s the overlooked factor: By not splurging on Beltran, they wouldn’t have to dangle Butler, who had a 116 wRC+ in 2013 (second-best among qualified Royals hitters).
Overall, it’d be a net gain. And with the money they have ready toss Beltran’s way, they could instead invest in a consistent veteran starter to further stabilize the back-end of their rotation after adding Jason Vargas.
Sounds like a much wiser plan to me.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference