Did Diamondbacks dodge a Beltran bullet?

Ronald Martinez

Carlos Beltran signed with the Yankees tonight, on a three-year deal for $45 million. But it seems the Diamondbacks might have offered Beltran even more. Was that wise?

I was at Mrs. Snakepit's company Christmas party tonight, but kept abreast of the Tweets concerning Beltran, in between snacking on flatbreads and mini-tiramisus. The news that we had also been in the running for the outfielder wasn't entirely a surprise, as I'd heard that he had been at Chase earlier in the week, visiting with Ken Kendricks and Kevin Towers. What is a surprise, is that we apparently out-bid the Yankees for his services:

There isn't any specific information on what the team actually offered, but in his subsequent post, Piecoro speculated that the Diamondbacks might have been the team to have offered Beltran a three-year, $48 million contract. A couple of things come to mind if that (or something thereabout) was the case. Firstly, unless the deal was heavily back-loaded, it appears that some earlier estimates of the D-backs' payroll were low. To quote Piecoro, "that could mean the club was comfortable with its payroll rocketing up to around $110 million." That would, however, be in line with what I speculated might be possible, as a result of income from the new national TV deal.

Now, it does remain to be seen whether this stretch was purely available for Beltran, but I think it's clear that the Diamondbacks are entirely serious about their need for a power-hitting outfielder. Was Beltran that man though? He'll be 37 in April, and 39 when the contract ends, and outfielders who can deliver even the three WAR seasons needed to justify a contract of that size are kinda rare. Since 1978, in fact, there have been a total of just 10 outfielders with even a single 3+ bWAR season at age 37 or better, and the sole post-Bonds representative was Marcus Giles, who gave the 2008 Padres 4.8 bWAR.

If you look at the entire 37-39 age band, things become even bleaker. Since the start of the eighties, only two players have put up a total of nine bWAR over those three seasons. You will not be surprised to hear that one was Barry Bonds, though naturally, we should take a large asterisk as read there. You might be surprised to learn that the other one was... former Diamondback Steve Finley. Here are the stats for the 10 outfielders to have put up the most total bWAR over that spell of their career, since 1980.

Rk Player bWAR From To G PA AB R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Barry Bonds 31.6 2002 2004 420 1779 1166 357 417 136 301 578 146 .358 .575 .786 1.361
2 Steve Finley 10.3 2002 2004 459 1865 1649 256 463 83 253 183 249 .281 .354 .496 .850
3 Moises Alou 8.7 2004 2006 376 1543 1373 225 417 80 243 152 154 .304 .371 .548 .920
4 Tony Gwynn 7.6 1997 1999 387 1602 1464 221 507 43 250 107 60 .346 .387 .513 .900
5 Jose Cruz 6.9 1985 1987 408 1531 1388 164 384 30 189 134 225 .277 .339 .411 .750
6 Kenny Lofton 5.7 2004 2006 322 1241 1112 197 340 8 95 108 110 .306 .367 .406 .773
7 Craig Biggio 5.7 2003 2005 464 2068 1851 296 500 65 194 134 300 .270 .338 .449 .787
8 Rickey Henderson 5.7 1996 1998 420 1781 1410 295 340 31 120 340 289 .241 .394 .345 .739
9 Tony Phillips 5.5 1996 1998 359 1656 1351 249 367 24 141 274 300 .272 .394 .391 .785
10 Larry Walker 5.1 2004 2005 182 683 573 117 168 32 99 90 121 .293 .403 .541 .944

No-one has reached even the lower standard of five bWAR since 2006. One wonders whether perhaps the stricter drug-testing policies now in place have helped Father Time catch up on older players, who seemed previously to have located the fountain of youth between 2002 and 2006, when six of the ten above worked their magic. If anyone can join them now, it might well be Beltran, who over the last three seasons has been worth 10.7 bWAR. But it certainly seems a potentially risky-proposition: by the end of 2016, it's possible, perhaps even likely, that we may be breathing a sigh of relief our higher bid wasn't the one selected by Beltran.

I do note that, for Towers, the offer was really a gamble on Beltran's performance next year. If it had paid off, and Carlos helped take Arizona to the post-season in 2014, then any subsequent under-performance would become much easier to handle. But if Beltran crashed and burned immediately, taking the team with him, it's unlikely Towers would be around to deal with the fallout. Such is probably the natural (and understandable) nature of a GM who does not have any security of tenure.

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