Soon to be 35, Carlos Beltran wanted to play outfield, not be a designated hitter, for a contender. A free agent, he had multiple offers, but only one provided precisely what he sought.
Ten years ago, on Dec. 23, 2011, Beltran signed a two-year contract worth $26 million to be the Cardinals’ right fielder.
A switch-hitter with power, Beltran was an important acquisition for the reigning World Series champions, who were looking to reload after the departure of first baseman Albert Pujols.
Still a factor
Beltran began the 2011 season with the Mets and was traded to the Giants in July for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.
“By trading for Beltran, the Giants have picked up their most prominent hitter since Barry Bonds,” declared the San Francisco Examiner.
Late in the season, Beltran switched agents, dropping Scott Boras and going with Dan Lozano, who also represented Albert Pujols.
Beltran’s final totals for the year were impressive: .300 batting average, 39 doubles, 22 home runs and 84 RBI. His on-base percentage was .385.
Granted free agency in October 2011, Beltran received offers from four American League clubs: Blue Jays, Indians, Rays and Red Sox, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
When Pujols, also a free agent, signed with the Angels, the Cardinals joined in the bidding for Beltran.
With Pujols gone and outfielder Allen Craig unavailable until May 2012 because of knee surgery, the Cardinals needed an established run producer. They envisioned Beltran joining an outfield with Matt Holliday in left and Jon Jay in center. Lance Berkman, who played right field in 2011, would shift to the first base spot vacated by Pujols.
Beltran had knee surgery in January 2010, and though he thought his performance for the Mets and Giants in 2011 showed he was agile enough to play the outfield, the American League clubs pursuing him wanted to split his time between being a designated hitter and an outfielder.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote, “From a pure hitting point of view, Beltran would be perfect, but scouts question his ability to patrol right field.”
The Cardinals didn’t share those concerns. They were quite familiar with Beltran. In two playoff appearances, 2004 with the Astros and 2006 with the Mets, Beltran excelled against the Cardinals.
In the 2004 National League Championship Series, Beltran batted .417, hit four home runs and scored 12 runs in seven games. His on-base percentage for the series was .563.
In the 2006 National League Championship Series, Beltran batted .296, hit three home runs and scored eight runs in seven games. His on-base percentage for the series was .387. His strikeout with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning of Game 7, however, overshadowed his overall production.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told the Post-Dispatch that Beltran “was on top” of the list of free agents the club wanted to sign in December 2011.
“He’s an outstanding pure hitter,” Mets special assistant J.P. Ricciardi told the Boston Globe. “He’s a guy who works very hard. He’s very committed. Whoever gets him will get an excellent hitter and overall player.”
Among the American League pursuers, “Beltran had at least one three-year offer on the table and it’s believed at least one offer had a higher average salary” than what the Cardinals proposed, the Post-Dispatch reported.
In the Cardinals’ favor was their status as a contender and the willingness to let Beltran, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, play in the outfield.
“I think it was important to him that we were willing to show him a commitment here,” Mozeliak said.
Beltran told Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch, “I want to play in the field at this stage of my career. I feel I can still make a difference in the field.”
It also helped that Lance Berkman, Beltran’s former Astros teammate, was with the Cardinals. So, too, Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo and catcher Yadier Molina. Beltran had played for Oquendo when he managed the Puerto Rican national team. Molina was Beltran’s teammate then.
Beltran, who hadn’t played in a World Series, told the Post-Dispatch that the Cardinals’ 2011 championship “was a big influence on me.”
“I’m looking for an opportunity to win a championship,” Beltran said. “I believe the Cardinals are a club that can do it again.”
Beltran’s signing by the Cardinals generally was well-received.
“By adding Beltran, you get a player who is confident in the postseason and is going to (impact) the lineup,” Matt Holliday told the Post-Dispatch.
Columnist Bernie Miklasz called it “an aggressive, smart move by the Cardinals. They successfully recruited one of the top five position players available.”
Beltran, who turned 35 in April 2012, had 32 home runs and 97 RBI for the 2012 Cardinals. Primarily batting in the No. 2 spot in the order, he followed that with 24 home runs and 84 RBI in 2013 when the Cardinals won the National League championship. Video Beltran had a .400 on-base percentage in the 2013 World Series versus the Red Sox.
Beltran had more hits, home runs and RBI in his two seasons with the Cardinals than Pujols did in his first two seasons with the Angels. The Cardinals reached the playoffs, including a World Series, in those two seasons and the Angels did not.
After the 2013 World Series, Beltran became a free agent and signed with the Yankees. After a brief stint with the 2016 Rangers, Beltran, 40, finished his playing career with a World Series championship as a member of the 2017 Astros.
Beltran is one of eight players, and the only switch-hitter, to achieve 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases.
He was the first player to have four consecutive seasons of 20 or more home runs, 100 or more runs scored, 100 or more RBI and 30 or more stolen bases. Beltran did it from 2001 through 2004.
Among switch-hitters, he ranks third all-time in RBI (1,587) and fourth in home runs (435).