Image courtesy of SI.com

Blue Jays Interested in Carlos Beltran?

Even though the Blue Jays already had seven outfielders on their 40-man roster, GM Alex Anthopoulos added another one in Ben Francisco from the Phillies on Monday, raising a lot of questions amongst the Jays’ fan base in the process.

According to Scott Miller of CBS Sports early this morning, though, the Jays might actually be looking to add another outfielder, this time via free agency in Carlos Beltran.

There hasn’t been much talk around baseball at all this offseason of Beltran, and while it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be playing for the Jays any time soon, he would fulfill Anthopoulos’ offseason desire to add a middle-of-the-order bat.

“The market for Carlos Beltran is heating up, with at least five clubs and possibly more seriously talking with the free agent outfielder. Among them, according to sources: The Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals and … Colorado Rockies,” Miller writes in his article. “The Blue Jays’ emergence as one of the clubs is noteworthy in that Toronto is in rebuilding mode and general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made several moves this offseason already.”

After two injury-shortened seasons from 2009-10, Beltran returned to his All-Star form this past season with the Mets, hitting .289 with 30 doubles and 15 home runs in 98 games. He continued to showcase his plate discipline as well, compiling a .391 on-base percentage primarily because of his 60 walks to 61 strikeouts.

Unsurprisingly, Beltran’s strong showing in the season’s first half made him a hot commodity at the trade deadline, and he enticed the Giants enough to part ways with their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler in order to get him for the remainder of the season. He continued his strong 2011 campaign with San Francisco, going 54-for-167 (.323) at the plate with nine doubles, seven home runs, and a .920 OPS in 44 games.

Even though his age and injury history, in addition to his declines in fielding and baserunning, somewhat negatively affect his value, the lack of interest in Beltran is still surprising. His 4.7 WAR this past season represented the fourth-highest mark among free-agent position players (highest among outfielders), and he’s coming off his sixth-consecutive season with a walk rate over 10 percent — something that’s noticeable considering the Jays’ emphasis on on-base percentage.

With David DeJesus, among others, having already signed and Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham having been linked to other teams recently, there has been a lot of interest in corner outfielders, but oddly just not in Beltran, the superior offensive player. With Willingham, 32, close to a three-year, $21 million contract with the Twins, it’s safe to say that Beltran, 34, could command a multiyear contract at $9-10 million per year, which would still be below his free agent value based on his 2011 WAR.

Anthopoulos explained the Francisco acquisition to reporters by saying, aside from the organization liking him and the depth he brings at a low price, that Francisco was a good guy to come off of the bench being a right-handed hitter, especially with the number of left-handed bats that the Jays have.

“It just gives John a lot of flexibility when we do face some tough left-handers,” Anthopoulos said of the trade in an article on BlueJays.com. “It’s nice having some options off the bench that can help balance that a little bit, and we think Francisco will be a nice complement to all of those players.”

It’s not a fair comparison to look at Francisco, a fifth outfielder on the Jays versus Beltran, a big league veteran that would command an everyday job, straight-up, but it’s obvious that Beltran would be more valuable against southpaws than Francisco. Beltran not only has a career .892 OPS in almost 1800 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, but he hit .286 with a .923 OPS against them this past season as well. Plus, he would certainly give John Farrell flexibility, as he’d be the only switch-hitter on the Jays’ roster with the ability to effectively produce from both sides of the plate.

Given the Jays’ already crowded outfield and the fact that Beltran would be looking to play every day, where could he possibly play for the Jays?

If he’s willing to do some shuffling around — and it’s doubtful that he would — then the Jays would be able to offer him more than enough playing time. From just a playing time perspective, there are more than enough areas where Beltran could be accommodated:

RF

Even though Beltran played right field exclusively in 2011, the Jays have the league’s reigning home run reader in Jose Bautista comfortably entrenched there. Even though Bautista has never played more than 116 games in right field in one season, it’s safe to assume that that number will go up in 2012 given that the Jays finally have a full-time third baseman in Brett Lawrie. As a result, he won’t be required to play the hot corner as much, but would be able to fill in there when Lawrie is given a day off. Still, it’s tough to imagine Bautista playing over 90% of the season’s games in right, factoring in off-days and the odd game at DH, so that would leave Beltran anywhere from 16 to 33 games (10-20% of the year) to play in right field.

CF

Center field, Beltran’s natural position, will obviously be occupied every day by the left-handed-hitting Colby Rasmus. Although Beltran’s defense has taken a dip in center, he’d be more than able to fill in periodically and would probably even do a better job than Rajai Davis. Rasmus has averaged 140 games per year in his first three big league campaigns, so once again there would be at least another 10% of the season (16 games) or more available for Beltran, and that’s excluding any off-days Rasmus could get against southpaws.

LF

It’s unclear whether or not Beltran would even be willing to play left field, a position that he has played only two career games at, but there would be games available for him there regardless of who wins the Spring Training starting battle between Travis Snider and Eric Thames. Both Snider and Thames are left-handed hitters that struggle against southpaws so, when you add in rest time as well, there could be a decent chunk of games for Beltran to play there, say, 40.

1B

No, Beltran would not be playing first base, but with Edwin Encarnacion right behind Adam Lind on the depth chart and as a viable platoon partner against left-handed pitchers, DH duties would need to be filled. Lind appeared in 109 games in his first season at first base, with Juan Rivera, David Cooper, and Encarnacion playing the bulk of the other games. If Lind’s struggles at the plate continue well into the 2012 campaign, he could very well finish the year with the 125 games he played in total this past season.

So, based on the extremely rough calculations above and assuming everybody is able to stay healthy, there would be over 100 games for Beltran to be used and get anywhere from 400 to 450 at-bats. If the Jays were hit with any injuries, then that number would escalate.

The dilemma, though, is that Beltran, a Scott Boras client, six-time All-Star, and former Silver Slugger, is unlikely to accept a part-time role with any team, especially coming off of the kind of season he had in 2011. Assuming he landed a multiyear deal and that the Jays were even serious about acquiring him, though, his playing time with Toronto would increase in 2013 given that Encarnacion would no longer be the primary DH.

All in all, with Beltran flying under the radar this offseason, he could be an intriguing option for the Jays as he would not only provide depth and insurance at a variety of positions, but would be the middle of the order bat that Anthopoulos has stated that he’s after.

Given the dollars (and possibly years) that he is likely looking for, though, the Jays’ hesitance to spend money on the big league roster so far this offseason, and Anthopoulos’ valuing of flexibility, Beltran’s probably not on the Jays’ radar.

Should the Blue Jays pursue Carlos Beltran this winter?

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-JM

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Tags: Alex Anthopoulos Ben Francisco Carlos Beltran Colby Rasmus Edwin Encarnacion Toronto Blue Jays

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