After not re-signing first baseman and future Hall of Fame inductee Albert Pujols
this off-season, it was imperative for the St. Louis Cardinals to bring in some offensive punch to make up for it, and they took a major step toward doing just that on Thursday by agreeing to terms on a two-year, $26 million deal with veteran free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran
. The signing is pending a physical.
The 34 year-old Beltran is expected to open 2012 as the Cardinals' starting right fielder, with Lance Berkman
shifting to Pujols' old spot at first base. St. Louis' need for a right fielder was further necessitated by the off-season surgery and recovery time needed by Allen Craig
, who is fresh off of a breakout partial season but will not be ready in time for opening day.
Beltran is a six-time All Star and has a .283 lifetime average, a .361 career on-base percentage, and has averaged 23 home runs per season since his first full year in 1999. However, he has missed significant parts of his big league tenure because of injuries and, despite topping 20 stolen bases seven different times, is no longer a threat to swipe many bases. Nonetheless, he remains one of Major League Baseball's better extra-base hitting threats and bounced back from a couple of injury-plagued 2009 and 2010 seasons to hit .300/.385/.525 (average/on-base/slugging) with 22 home runs, 39 doubles, and 6 triples in 142 games with the Mets and Giants last year.
As is the case with most aging sluggers (particularly those with injury histories), there were mixed opinions about Beltran's free agent price and diminishing skill set, but the Cardinals beat out the Blue Jays and Indians in their pursuit of the Puerto Rico native (Source: MLBTraderumors.com
). Furthermore, the Cards have proven that they're willing to roll the dice on aging power hitters, and it paid off for them big time when they signed thought-to-be-fading hitter Lance Berkman last off-season, installed him as their starting right fielder, and rode his remaining skills all the way to a 2011 World Series title.
It's unlikely that Beltran will put up 2011 season numbers comparable to what the club had come to expect from Albert Pujols, nor is Beltran expected to match the 30-plus home run marks of his best big league seasons, but 20-plus home runs, a pile of doubles, and a near-.300 batting average with solid on-base skills are well within his current capabilities this year. Filling some of the offensive void will help the Cardinals immensely and, along with a healthy pitching staff, the club could once again be playoff contenders under new manager Mike Matheny
From a fantasy standpoint, this move could help boost Beltran's low RBI numbers from 2010, especially since he no longer has to hit in the sub-par lineups of the Mets and Giants. The lineup presence of Berkman and heavy-hitting left fielder Matt Holliday
should provide him with some help, depending on exactly how the lineup shakes out, and a healthy Beltran could find himself in All Star form like he did in 2011. If he can provide the Cardinals with the same spark that Berkman provided last year, it could be a beneficial season for the club, Carlos, and fantasy owners willing to gamble on the veteran hitter.