During the 2013 offseason, the Yankees undertook their most recent free agent spending spree. They offered a three-year, $45 million contract to Carlos Beltran, an offer that was accepted. Beltran was entering his age 37 season, and, after seeing his effectiveness drop off in 2013, seemed to clearly be declining. Three years at a fairly high average annual value was generally deemed an overpay by New York.
One year into the deal, the situation looked predictably poor. Beltran declined precipitously on offense as his wRC+ fell from 131 in 2013 to 97 in 2014. Add in the fact that Beltran was a defensive sieve in the outfield and a net minus on the basepaths, and the Yankees had a replacement level right fielder on their hands, under contract for two more years.
If you told the Yankees after that debut season that Beltran's Yankee tenure would actually be a successful one, they surely would have had a hard time believing it. Yet given the production the Yankees received over Beltran's last year and a half in pinstripes, plus the quality prospect return they procured from Texas, Beltran's contract with the Yankees turned out far better than could have been expected after a mostly disastrous beginning.
Beltran was no better than a replacement player in 2014, so he entered 2015 essentially tasked with earning every cent of his $45 million guarantee over the final two years. That looked near-impossible, as it is not in the nature of seemingly washed up 38 year old players to suddenly regain their prime form at the plate.
Except that is precisely what Beltran did. Beltran overcame a sluggish start in 2015 to post an excellent .295/.357/.505 slash line over the final 5 months, and a .276/.337/471 line overall. His defense still left something to be desired, but his walk rate ticked up from 2014, his strikeout rate fell, and his isolated slugging increased by 26 points as he slugged 19 home runs. It was a surprise, resurgent season.
There was no guarantee that Beltran would sustain that level of production in 2016, his age 39 season, and in a sense, he didn't. Instead, he was even better, as Beltran was definitively the Yankees' best hitter during the first half. Prior to being traded at the August 1st non-waiver deadline, Beltran ran a .304/.344/.546 slash line, and his 135 wRC+ at the time was easily the best on the team. He led the Yankees with 22 home runs, despite not playing for them for the final two months.
In all, Beltran was worth over 4 fWAR during his last year and a half with the Yankees. The Rangers paid the last $2.5 million of Beltran's contract, so the Yankees paid Beltran $42.5 million for his contributions. That works out to about $10 million for a win above replacement, slightly above the roughly $8 million going rate for a win above replacement on the free agent market. So, from a strict dollars per WAR standpoint, the Beltran contract was a bit lacking from the Yankees' perspective, despite his strong finish.
However, that would ignore the real value the Yankees derived from trading Beltran. Flipping Beltran for prospects wasn't exactly the plan entering 2016, but he brought back a package of Dillon Tate, Erik Swanson, and Nick Green. That return is much less than what the Yankees got for their ace relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but that they got anything at all for a 39 year old pending free agent was a huge success.
That's without even mentioning Tate's potential, which is tantalizing. He was the fourth overall draft pick just last year, and has reportedly regained his velocity pitching in the AFL this year, touching the upper 90’s. His numbers this year (a 4.70 ERA in Single-A) were poor, but Tate's upside, whether as a possible starter or late inning reliever, is enough to tip the scales. Beltran's onfield production, plus the added value of the three prospects, probably eclipses the $42.5 million value paid to Beltran.
That the Beltran contract can reasonably be defined as a success after such an inauspicious beginning is a minor miracle, and a bit of a microcosm for how successful the Yankees' 2016 was, in spite of a step back in terms of win-loss record. Beltran looked like a shell of himself after 2014, but the potential future hall of famer showed he had still had plenty left in the tank. He unfortunately didn't secure his elusive championship ring this year, but he proved the Yankees' investment in him to be shockingly worthwhile.