The Kansas City Royals have needs and if statistics mean anything, their two most glaring needs are 1) right field and 2) second base. While the team made serious strides last season and started to reap the rewards of the organization’s investments in its minor league system, the various combinations of Chris Getz, Emilio Bonifacio, and Johnny Giavotella at second base proved it had a limited upside and the right field platoon of David Lough and Justin Maxwell yielded only brief glimpses of promise. Fast forward to the Winter Meetings currently being held in Lake Buena Vista, Florida and the Royals have some key decisions to make.
The big rumor coming out of the Winter Meetings is the Royals are a serious contender for the services of Carlos Beltran, the former Royal who’s most recent stop in Saint Louis resulted in a shockingly productive two-year stint for the Cardinals. In fact, it was the best pair of consecutive seasons of Beltran’s career since the 2006 and 2007 campaigns while a member of the New York Mets.
Honestly, the Cardinals had to be stunned to have gotten the type of production Beltran gave them. However, a simple bell curve analysis of pretty much every MLB player in history, save the steroid-era favorites like Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire, shows that Beltran is most likely entering the twilight of his career and in all likelihood, the past two seasons were the last shining moments of a career about to realize a precipitous decline.
Even if Beltran matches his production over the past two seasons, the Royals don’t really gain much over the man they would ostensibly need to move in order to sign Beltran; Billy Butler.
The popular wisdom at the moment is the Royals would very likely try to move Butler in order to clear about $20M off the books allowing them to sign Beltran and let him platoon in the OF and DH. Let me get this straight, the Royals want to move a younger, equally productive player who is entering his prime power years for an older, more expensive player, who is on the decline.
Does this make sense to anyone? It does if Beltran can play RF every day but can the Royals really count on him to play 150 games in right field while putting up the same numbers he has over the last two seasons?
Oh, by the way, Beltran’s and Butler’s offensive numbers over the last 7 seasons (the entirety of Butler’s career) are eerily similar. Keeping in mind that Beltran, when healthy, is a better defensive player but also that he is now about as much of a threat on the bases as Butler, Butler averages 19 HRs and 90 RBI while Beltran, over the last 7 seasons has averaged 22 HRs and 88 RBI.
Beltran would be an improvement in RF but baseball games are not played on a relative basis and scored by position. Baseball is a zero sum game and the simple math says Beltran doesn’t add much to the net total offensively.
Look, I too have fond memories of Beltran’s younger days patrolling the confines of the “K”. He was special. He had that unique blend of speed and power coupled with a rifle arm and an innate baseball IQ that set him apart from others. But that was a long time and several knee injuries ago. The Carlos Beltran of today is essentially an older, more expensive, Billy Butler.
The reality is the Kansas City Royals are not the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox and as a small-market club, they simply can’t afford to be sentimental about a 3-yr, $48M dollar deal right now. This is exactly the kind of move that put the Royals in the kind of hole they’ve been digging out of for the last two decades.
All things being equal, if the Royals are just itching to spend $50M on a player, why not go get Brandon Phillips who it’s rumored Cincinnati has been exploring offers for? He’s younger than Beltran (32 vs. 36), is a Gold-Glove second baseman, and you’d have him locked up for 4 years.
Phillips would be the kind of veteran presence than can lead this generation of Royals through the heart of their window of opportunity, not to mention that he’s a natural in the 2-hole, and can hit for average, power, and steal a base. He even draws around 45 walks a year. What’s not to like?
Signing Phillips may mean parting with Greg Holland and some combination of highly regarded prospects possibly including a Kyle Zimmer, Christian Colon, or a Yordano Ventura but they ARE just prospects and if there’s one thing we know, it’s that baseball prospects are about as dicey a proposition as there is. Besides, what’s the point of having arguably the best farm system in the majors if you’re not going to use those resources to acquire the right players at the right time?
Brandon Phillips is an established superstar and he plays a critical need position for the Royals. I for one would be willing to take a little more risk in RF while perhaps letting Justin Maxwell get a legitimate shot at holding down the position if it meant we could insert Brandon Phillips at second base for the next 4 seasons. His presence would go a long way towards improving the rest of the lineup and would very likely turn Gordon, Hosmer, Mustakas, Perez, and Butler into one of the better offenses in the league.
Only time will tell but with the Royals on the precipice of a possible playoff return, I would hate to see us roll the dice on a Carlos Beltran when for roughly the same money, we could possibly land a Brandon Phillips instead. Decisions like these make and break GMs and franchises. Here’s hoping Dayton makes the right call.