The Complicated Legacy of Carlos Beltran

Photo: (AP / Julie Jacobson)

Carlos Beltran was a quintessential five tool player over his 20 MLB seasons. Over 70 career bWAR, nine All-Star appearances with four different franchises, Rookie of the Year in 1999, three Gold Gloves, over 300 stolen bases, and over 400 home runs. 

His 2004 Postseason is one of the best of all time. In just 12 games, Beltran had eight home runs and six stolen bases with a casual .436/.532/1.024 slash line. That’s not a 1.024, that’s a 1.024 slugging percentage! That postseason run, in part, helped net him the 7th largest contract in MLB history at the time of signing with the New York Mets. In 2005, he had a largely underwhelming year. However in 2006, it all came together for an MVP caliber season where he hit 41 home runs, hit for a 148 wRC+, won a gold glove, silver slugger, and posted a career best 8.6 bWAR. 

As an aside, 2006 should have been an incredible MVP race between Beltran and Albert Pujols but Ryan Howard won the award because baseball was stupid back then, so thought having a lot of RBI made you the best player. Beltran would have another sensational year in 2008 and a few more good seasons throughout his career, but yet despite all of this, when you google “Carlos Beltran gif”, this NLCS strikeout shows up.

So why with such an incredible career, one filled with awards, massive contracts, postseason heroics, would a player of such caliber be defined by a strikeout? Well, the short answer is lolMets, but I prefer longer answers. Despite their World Series appearance in 2015, the 2006 Mets were clearly the best Mets team this century. They won nine more games than any other team in the National League at 97-65, and were seen as a clear favorite to represent the National League in the Fall Classic that year. They swept the Dodgers in the NLDS, but somehow found themselves down 3-1 in a Game 7 at home against the 83-win St. Louis Cardinals. New York rallied to load the bases in the bottom of the 9th with their superstar up to bat. A base hit would tie the game, while an extra base hit would send the Mets to the World Series. Beltran is the $119 million man, while being arguably the best postseason performer in baseball. A storybook ending is set up; Beltran just needs to write the final page. And instead, he sat there.

Beltran figured to have plenty of chances to redeem himself but it never quite materialized. The Mets had several consecutive patented September collapses, and as the Mets moved into Citi Field, Beltran’s body began to fail him. Gone were the days of a Gold Glove center fielder, as Beltran was forced to move to right field. He was a negative there too, but was still a very good hitter when on the field. From ages 34-39, he maintained a 126 OPS+. Beltran was not a well-liked Met, he was seen as “soft” and “disinterested”, and seemed to only wanted to do things his way. In Beltran’s seven years with the Mets, he accumulated roughly 30 bWAR, but he was brought in to be the hero and he seemed to fall just short of that. Many of his criticisms are largely unfair, he was productive everywhere he went, but there was always that something missing; delivering his team to a title. Well technically Carlos Beltran does have a ring.

We all should be aware of the 2017 Houston Astros and their cheating scandal. Many would have forgotten Beltran was even on that team had it been a normal championship. He was simply a player at the end of his career signing with a team that wouldn’t play him often, but he just wanted that elusive championship before retirement. Beltran went just 3 for 20 on that 2017 run, as he was largely a spectator for the championship Astros. His contributions were seen largely as off-the-field ones. That assessment is correct, but just not how we thought. 

We all believed Beltran was a veteran leader and role model for a young Astros team. We now know that Beltran was a ringleader in the Astros sign stealing scandal. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, players “felt powerless” stopping “the Godfather” that was Beltran. Brian McCann reportedly asked Beltran to stop the cheating, but he refused. After retiring, Beltran was hired to be the Mets next manager prior to the 2020 season, but was named in the cheating scandal report. He was subsequently fired before ever managing a single game. lolMets.

Had Carlos Beltran simply retired after 2016, he would have been a lock to make the Hall of Fame. He hit all those milestones I mentioned in the beginning, and his WAR would have even been higher. He played to a negative WAR in his final season. Sure he would not have a championship, but all the individual accolades would have easily put him in. He’s got a solid case for one of the 50 greatest baseball players to ever live. 

From 2001 to 2008, he accumulated 46.6 fWAR, the 4th best mark in baseball. That’s behind just Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez. I suppose it is fitting that Beltran is right next to Bonds and A-Rod on a list. If steroid users don’t get in for cheating and/or ruining the integrity of the game, then Beltran has no business being inducted either. One could say something like, “Well, his Hall of Fame status was secured before the cheating.” However, a very similar point could be made for Barry Bonds and what he did in Pittsburgh. When I was a little kid first getting into baseball, Beltran was one of the best players in the biggest market, but most people seemed to dislike him. That confused me at that young age, but it makes infinitely more sense now with what has been discovered.

Categories: Player Profiles

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