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A strong 2016 season could finalize Carlos Beltran's Hall of Fame legacy

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Statistically, Carlos Beltran is essentially right on the border of Hall of Fame candidacy. So much so, that a strong 2016 season could be what tips the scales.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Because of the emphatic resurgence of veterans like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran flew under the radar in 2015. Despite his low profile persona, Beltran has as good of a chance as anyone on the Yankees roster of making the Hall of Fame. But with one year left on his contract, he is running out of time to make his case for Cooperstown. If the 2016 season is Beltran's last, it could be the final push he needs to become a Hall of Famer.

When sportswriters argue Beltran's candidacy for the Hall of Fame, they will point to the fact that he was, by every imaginable definition, a five-tool player in his prime. Throughout his career, he has had seven seasons with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, while phenomenal defense early in his career. Unfortunately, injuries began to take their toll on Beltran starting in 2009, when he played just 81 games with the Mets. The next year, he was limited to just 64 games, and underwent a knee surgery in the middle of the season. Since then, his defensive numbers have been well below average, sapping most of the defensive value he accumulated during the prime of his career.

Entering the 2016 season, Beltran has accrued 66 wins above replacement, going by Fangraphs' model. Baseball Reference is a bit more generous, pegging him at 68.4 for his career. According to Baseball Reference's leaderboards, the 19 players who have been inducted as Hall of Famers as centerfielders have had an average of 71.4 WAR. While that figure may be inflated by players with obscene career stats like Ty Cobb and Willie Mays, it is also weighed down by lesser known players who were inducted by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee. One such player is Earle Combs, the centerfielder for the 1927 Yankees, who had just 42.5 career bWAR.

Recent history does not bode well for Beltran, as players like Kenny Lofton (68.2 career bWAR) and Tim Raines (69.1 career bWAR) have yet to be inducted. Lofton was actually eliminated from the ballot after not receiving enough votes in 2013. However, it's possible that the old school sportswriters of the BBWAA don't value speed and defense as much as the sabermetrics community does today. In that case, the good news for Beltran is that he has a career slugging percentage of .490, with 392 home runs and 503 doubles.

Speaking of which, Beltran is very close to a couple of significant milestones. As stated above, Beltran is eight home runs away from number 400. He is also 46 hits away from the 2,500 mark. While 3,000 hits and 500 home runs were once considered to be the benchmark for a position player's Hall of Fame candidacy, the recent offensive decline in baseball might force BBWAA writers to reconsider. Beltran has also been a tremendous postseason performer, despite never winning a World Series title. In 52 playoff games, he has 16 home runs with a 1.115 OPS.

Because of his borderline career WAR total and his other offensive numbers, the 2016 season could go a long way in determining his Hall of Fame candidacy. Barring some sort of injury, he should reach 400 home runs and 2,500 hits very easily. But adding more than one or two WAR as a defensively challenged corner outfielder will be tougher. The acquisition of Aaron Hicks might limit his playing time, as Hicks crushes left-handed pitching, while Beltran has done significantly better against righties in recent years. If 2016 ends up being Beltran's final act in the big leagues, he should do whatever he can to make it count. His ticket to Cooperstown might be depending on it.

Data is courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.