Yesterday, Rob reported on the rumor that the Yankees are currently considering former Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran. At first glance, it seems to be just another case of a reporter attaching the Yankees and their vast resources to a random big name player. After all, why would the Yankees consider Beltran when they already have Nick Swisher and his reasonable salary in right?
But with more thought, the interest in Beltran may make more sense than originally thought. Perhaps the Yankees will pick up the Swisher option and then flip him for say, a starting pitcher, as Rob suggested. To examine the advantages of such a move, let’s compare what each player has to offer. We’ll start by comparing their offensive performance alone.
Any way you choose to look at it, Nick Swisher has been a solid hitter for the Yankees over the past three seasons. In 2011, Swisher led the team with a .374 OBP, leading to a .358 wOBA despite his early season slump and diminished power.
In fact, that mark was the worst of his seasons with the Yankees. In 2009 and 2010, Swisher held his wOBA above .370 with 29 home runs each year, making him an all-star caliber hitter. Based on his last three seasons, we can expect another year of ~.260/.360/.470 level hitting, a line good enough for the middle of the lineup.
While, Swish will likely provide solid, near all-star level production at the plate, Beltran has the ability to be an elite hitter. Last season was somewhat of a resurgence for the once perennial MVP-candidate. Through 142 games, the former-Met held a line of .300/.385/.525, good for a .389 wOBA.
For some perspective, that puts him at 13th in the league, ahead of hitters such as Troy Tulowitski, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, among others. And he did this all in Citi Field and AT&T Park, two of the most pitcher friendly ballparks in the game
Of course, it is not feasible to expect the same type of offensive production in 2012, even if he remains healthy. However, it is not so far off from what can be realistically expected. In fact, Over the three seasons prior to 2011, Beltran still combined for a .289/.380/.486 line, and that includes the injury riddled 64 games he played in 2010.
In the end, Beltran could be expected to hit ~.290/.380/.500, which would put him right with Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson as the Yankees best hitters. In fact, if signed, he could slide right into the middle of the Yankees’ order.
Both Beltran and Swisher boast premier discipline at the plate and solid power, but Beltran holds a significant enough advantage in batting average that he is clearly the better hitter. Add in the fact that the two are comparable defenders, and Beltran is the better player.
However, we have so far overlooked three of the most important factors; age, cost and durability.
You may have noticed that throughout this post, I have been writing “if healthy” when referring to Beltran’s production, and for good reason. Anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to New York baseball is aware of Beltran’s injury troubles in Queens. He played just 145 games between 2009 and 2010.
Moreover, it has not been a slew of fluky injuries like say, a baseball to the wrist. Rather, Beltran has been having chronic knee injuries for years now, and is essentially left with almost no cartilage in that knee. This is important as the chance for trouble with this type of injury is much greater that if it had been a random, in-game circumstance.
And then there is his age and cost. At 35 years old, Beltran is nearing the twilight of his career. Any season now, it is possible that we see a significant decline in performance, which would make a lucrative three or four year deal such a high risk that it is a non-starter, especially when the 30 year old Swisher is already signed short-term.
To conclude, Beltran would make the Yankees look better on paper than Swisher would. But while it is nice to dream of adding another force to an already stacked lineup there is also a great deal of risk and money involved with Beltran.
Perhaps it is important to take note of Beltran’s supposed desire to play for the Yankees. This desire was so great that six years ago, Scott Boras, Beltran’s agent, approached the Yankees claiming Beltran was willing to play in the Bronx at a discount compared to the offer he eventually accepted from the Mets.
With this in mind, maybe Beltran would come to the Yankees at a relatively reasonable price, which would have to be two years and $15 million guaranteed at most. Even then, though, the Yankees would have to deal with Swisher as there is no way they are not picking up his team-friendly option.
The only way I could see the Yankees pulling this off would be if they are unable to add more pitching through the free agent route. They could feasibly flip Swisher for some rotation help, as Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues touched upon two weeks ago.
The chances of this happening are slim no matter how you slice it, but the potential is there for an enormous payoff. While the rumor seems to have been started with little to back it up, it is indeed something worth looking into.