How do you replace a superstar like Albert Pujols? You spread the money around.
The Cardinals signed their second post-Pujols contract by hiring Carlos Beltran to patrol right field for two years and $26 million. The iffy-kneed Beltran enjoyed a renaissance last year — should his good health continue, the contract will prove to be a good value. And as part of a spread the wealth program, the World Champs have a chance to tread water despite losing their best player.
Since 2001, Beltran has only been below average with the stick once. Most years, he’s 30-50% above-average at the plate. In that respect, his 151 wRC+ last year was no surprise.
But Beltran had knee surgery in 2010. And the circumstances were strange. Reportedly recommended for microfracture surgery, Beltran went outside team channels and had his own surgery. Reported in some places as a chrondoplasty, or a less invasive form of microfracture, and in others as arthroscopic knee surgery, it seemingly fixed the issue. Sure, Beltran missed half of 2010 and then some time in camp in 2011, but ever since, he’s shown his vaunted plate discipline and even decent corner outfield defense. Once his power returned, he’s looked like a slightly lesser version of his past self.
If we count Beltran as a 4.7-win player by true talent, he’d be worth more than seven wins over the next two years. That would make him quite the value. Let’s do MARCEL type prediction for Beltran: we weight last year five times, the year before four times, and year before three times, add in two average years and divide by 14 — and our new WAR prediction is 2.8 for next year. Now there’s the chance he’s only worth just over five wins over the course of his contract. Still a value, but closer. And that lower prediction heavily weights Beltran’s 2009 and 2010.
Beltran is hardly Pujols. But he can be part of a successful post-Pujols Cardinals plan.
Spread the cash around and get incremental upgrades around the diamond — that’s all you can do when you’re left holding a bag of money and don’t like the star options still on the market. Last week, the Cardinals signed Rafael Furcal to a two-year, $14 million. Now Beltran. Those two replace Tyler Greene and Allen Craig on the depth charts.
Though Marcel-type weighting is not ‘fair’ to Craig and Greene, and both Furcal and Beltran are question-laden veterans, those are obvious upgrades. If we pump Craig and Greene up to 600-PA players and then Marcel-them-up, we get 3.25 wins for Craig and half a win for Greene next year. Furcal would be worth 2.5 wins in the same process, plus Beltran’s 2.8 wins. But Craig is still going to be on the team — at second base, backing up Beltran in the outfield, perhaps playing in center some — so you can’t take away all three of his wins. Let’s call it a three-win upgrade over the course of two signings.
That’s no six-win star first baseman, but those three wins of upgrade do add up. Add in a triumphant return from Adam Wainwright, a few dollars in the coffer for a mid-season acquisition, and at least a three-win first baseman already in hand, and you can see how a successful team recovers from losing Albert Pujols: By spreading it around.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.