Welcome to the latest installment of Yankeeist’s “Bizarre Moves from Seasons Past” series. We previously covered the trading of Mike Lowell, the non-signing of David Ortiz, the non-signing of Andy Pettitte after the 2003 season and the non-signing of Vladimir Guerrero.
Following the nightmarish manner in which the 2004 season concluded for the Yankees, the organization correctly set out to address the team’s most glaring deficiency: starting pitching. Unfortunately, not only did the Yankees end up going about addressing the problem in a startlingly shortsighted and impatient manner, signing both the injury prone and mostly mediocre Jaret Wright and the soon-to-be injury prone and altogether mediocre Carl Pavano in attempt to bolster a flagging rotation, but the team’s obsession with trading for Randy Johnson resulted in the dismissal of signing a player that would have been a huge acquisition not only for 2005, but for years to come: Carlos Beltran.
At the time, the Yankees had a gaping wound opening up in center field, but unfortunately team loyalty to incumbent Bernie Williams had blinded the Yankees to their problem. The 2004 season was Bernie’s last productive year, albeit with a middling — at least by his standards — OPS+ of 108. To make matters worse, Bernie — never known for his fielding prowess — posted an absolutely atrocious -42.8 UZR/150 in center that year. Incredibly, Bernie was even worse in the field in 2005, with a -45.7 UZR/150, and he also recorded the worst year of his career at the plate, with an 85 OPS+.
Beltran — coming off a monstrous 2004 campaign in which he posted a 132 OPS+ in his age 27 season — would have been the perfect solution to the Yankees’ center field woes. To add insult to injury, Scott Boras was practically begging the Yankees to sign Beltran, reportedly coming back to the Bombers hours before taking the Mets’s seven-year, $119 million offer with a discount because Beltran supposedly wanted to be a Yankee badly enough that he was willing to take less money to play in the Bronx. The Yankees, determined to land the Big Unit (and also likely feeling somewhat reluctant to dole out another $100 million-plus deal after Jason Giambi’s disastrous 2004), decided to be uncharacteristically frugal and passed on Beltran.
Let’s take a look at what Beltran has done since making his home in Flushing compared to the Yankees’ revolving center field door (Bernie in 2005, Johnny Damon in 2006, Melky Cabrera from 2007 through 2009):
|NYYCF OPS+||C.B. OPS+||NYYCF wOBA||C.B. wOBA|
Beltran has hands-down outproduced the Yankees’ center fielders since 2005. He’s also been worth $95.5 million to the Mets during a time period in which he’s been paid $76.6 million. And yet there are still members of the Mets’ fan base that view Beltran as “unclutch” and “soft,” as if the team somehow would have been better without him these past five seasons.
As pumped as I am about the Curtis Granderson deal, Bill James has Beltran posting a .379 wOBA next season compared to Granderson’s .366. Obviously a .366 wOBA from Granderson would be wonderful, but it somewhat underscores the Yankees’ foolishness in passing on Beltran five years ago.
Imagine the Yankees had signed Guerrero (as discussed yesterday) and then picked up Beltran the following season? Beltran had a down year in 2005, but in 2006, an outfield of Vlad, Beltran and Matsui would’ve combined to produce a wOBA of .393 (!). And yes, I know Matsui only played 51 games in ’06, but it’s still fun to hypothesize.
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