The Rangers, seeking to fortify their place atop the American League West, acquired 39 year-old Carlos Beltran today for pitching prospect Dillon Tate and two other minor leaguers. The well-traveled vet did not come cheap; Tate, just 22, was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft, and sports a lethal fastball-slider combo. Many words have been written over the past week praising the job that Brian Cashman has done to upgrade the Yankees’ future. Acquiring a piece such as Tate, as well as two other young players, for a 39 year-old who will be a free agent at the end of the season is surely another step on the road towards contention in 2017 and beyond.
However, this is a post about the Rangers, and while they may have given up valuable future assets, they also get a very valuable present asset in return. Though no longer the player he once was defensively, Beltran is still playable in right field, and his bat should be an instant upgrade no matter where he fits in.
Were it not for David Ortiz, Beltran may be receiving more press as the league’s ageless wonder. With a triple slash line of .304/.344/.546, Beltran is having his best offensive season since 2011. Since the All-Star break, the erstwhile Kansas City Royal has been 33 percent better than league average at the plate, and better than anyone currently on the Rangers’ roster.
The Beltran trade - along with the ensuing acquisition of Jonathan Lucroy - comes just in time for an under-performing Rangers team riddled with injuries. Prince Fielder recently was declared out for the season with a herniated disc, and regular right fielder Shin-Soo Choo is once again on the disabled list. Beltran will mercifully allow the Rangers to keep Delino DeShields Jr. on the bench, switching Nomar Mazara back to left field and replacing the DeShields/Ryan Rua combination that had been starting in Choo’s stead. When Choo returns, either he or Beltran can provide relief to a designated hitter position that has performed 40 percent below league average at the plate even with Fielder healthy for much of the season. Additionally, this allows Texas to deploy Jurickson Profar as a super-utility player, rather than wasting his glove by playing him at designated hitter.
Beltran’s versatility at the plate should improve Texas’ offense significantly. He is the rare switch hitter without an overly preferred side – in fact, throughout his career, Beltran has been 26 percent above league average against lefties and 25 percent above league average against righties. This gives manager Brian Banister the luxury of playing Beltran every day without having to worry about which hand the opposing pitcher throws with. Beltran’s versatility is especially important because it allows Banister to sit Mazara and Profar more often when facing a lefty. Against southpaws, Mazara has been hapless to the tune of a .245/.286/.286 triple slash line this season, while Profar has not been much better, posting a .245/.315/.265 line. Beltran, meanwhile, has crushed lefthanders, compiling a slash line of .351/.405/.640. The difference should be a significant one for Texas, and will only be amplified should they face a lefthander such as David Price or J.A. Happ in the postseason.
Though it is possible that Beltran will not continue to perform at this level for the remainder of the season, he should at least provide a significant boost to an ailing Rangers offense. In seventeen years as a full-time player, Beltran has only been below average offensively four times, and in three of those seasons he was pretty close. Both projection systems available at Fangraphs.com, ZiPS and Steamer, see Beltran as about 10 percent above average at the plate going forward. Considering that the Yankees are paying down most of his salary, Beltran appears a worthy gamble.
Like most trades, it is almost impossible to evaluate which team “won” ahead of time. If the Rangers scuffle and miss the playoffs, the trade will likely be remembered poorly even if Beltran performs well. Conversely, a World Series title would validate the trade in the minds of many, even if Beltran struggles. The Rangers did give up a costly package to acquire Carlos Beltran, that much is certain. But it can be said with equal certainty that Texas improved on deadline day and raised their odds of winning a World Series, which is as much as can be asked for in a deadline deal.
Data courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com
Tom O’Donnell is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. He will be a senior at Colby College next fall. You can follow him on Twitter @Od_tommy.