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With J.D. Drew’s horrific contract and passionless play finally vacating right field at Fenway Park, newly appointed general manager Ben Cherington must decide who should man the territory near Pesky’s Pole for the 2012 season.
Will Cherington give internal options Josh Reddick and/or Ryan Kalish a chance to prove themselves? Or will he look elsewhere in search of that elusive right-handed outfield bat the Red Sox have desperately wanted?
As first reported by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman, it appears the Red Sox may be targeting free agent Carlos Beltran to fill the void in right field. ESPN’s Gordon Edes has also heard from a baseball source that the Red Sox are discussing Beltran behind closed doors.
After suffering through five years of Drew and watching Carl Crawford fail (and flail) miserably in the first year of his contract, does it make sense for the Red Sox to pursue Beltran as an option in right field?
In 2011, Beltran proved himself capable of continuing to be a productive hitter late in his career. Between the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants, Beltran hit .300/.385/.525 with 22 home runs and 84 RBIs. He was named to the All-Star Team for the sixth time in his career. While he hit for a higher average from the left side of the plate (.307 with a .404 OBP as opposed to .282/.333 from the right side), Beltran displayed more power from the right side (.525 slugging with 9 homers in just 149 at-bats, compared to .504 SLG with 13 HRs in 371 ABs as a left-handed hitter).
As a patient hitter, Beltran would seem to fit in with the Red Sox hitting philosophy that emphasizes on-base percentage and quality at-bats. As a switch-hitter, he would slot in perfectly anywhere in the middle of the Boston line-up without disturbing the lefty-righty balance that is so necessary (and precarious) in Boston. Beltran would also give David Ortiz (or whoever else hits fifth or sixth, if Ortiz signs elsewhere) some much-needed protection that neither Reddick nor Kalish would be able to provide.
At age 34, though, Beltran’s durability remains a question mark, particularly after Red Sox fans endured five injury-plagued seasons of Nancy Drew. In 2009 and 2010, injuries limited him to just 81 and 64 games in those two seasons. Beltran played in 142 games in 2011, but he did start to break down late in the season with the Giants, sitting out from Aug. 8 to 21 with a balky knee that required cortisone shots. After he returned from injury, though, he did still manage to hit .352 the rest of the way with 7 home runs and 17 RBIs.
The Red Sox would reportedly give Beltran a two-year deal to come to Boston, and now that Beltran has discarded the infamous Scott Boras as his agent, perhaps he wouldn’t come at an outrageous price (merely expensive). This could be a similar situation to when the Red Sox took a flier on Adrian Beltre, and that turned out to be a fantastic signing (one I wish could have continued with the Red Sox instead of the Rangers).
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after Reddick fell back to reality following a hot start, and with Kalish returning from surgery on a bulging disc in his neck that kept him sidelined for most of 2011, Beltran might be worth signing as a bridge until the Red Sox prospects are ready to take over in a year or two.
Beltran has performed in a big market with the Mets, and he has also proven himself on the big stage during the October playoffs. (For my money, his eight home runs in the 2004 postseason with the Astros trump that one swing and a miss as a Met to end Game 7 in the 2006 NLCS.) If he can produce anywhere near his 2011 numbers, or even his career numbers (.283/.361/.496), Beltran would make a huge impact in the Red Sox line-up.
While Beltran could suffer an injury (déjà Drew) that would leave the Red Sox with Reddick or Kalish, the two prospects are currently the only two right field options on the table anyway (to be platooned with a cheap right-handed hitting outfielder). With all the resources the Red Sox have, John Henry and company can certainly afford to pay Beltran even if he’s not playing. The reward far outweighs the risk.
After all, when you really think about it, it’s just a lot of pairs of $300 headphones.