2014 Statistics: .233/.301/.402, 97 wRC+, .310 wOBA, 15 HR, -0.5 fWAR
2015 Contract Status: Signed for $15 million. Two years and $30 million remaining.
It's been about ten months since the Yankees' pursuit of free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran. At first the team was wary of offering the 36-year-old a third year guaranteed with a flush of thirty-somethings with multiple years left already populating their roster. But hey - Yankees gonna Yankee. When Arizona and Kansas City reportedly upped their offers to Beltran, the Yankees, desperate for a middle-of-the-order bat with Robinson Cano already out the door, followed suit. On December 19th, they got their man. Beltran would don the pinstripes for three years and $45 million.
Things started off pretty well for Beltran. He was named the American League player of the week for April 7th-13th and drove in thirteen runs on five homers in the season's opening month. Then it all went south quickly. Mired in a 5-for-43 slump in early May, Beltran was diagnosed with a bone spur in his right elbow. He opted for rehab over a surgery that would have cost him twelve weeks and managed to return in June, but in a seriously diminished state. Relegated to DH duty for most of the summer, Beltran's elbow kept his production - and his playing time - at substandard levels. He appeared in just 109 games this year and managed an OPS over .730 in only one month between May and September. On the season, his ISO (.169), BB:K rate (0.46) and line drive rate (16.5 percent) all slunk well beneath his career norms. His wRC+ of 97 and his OPS of .703 were profoundly ordinary.
Given the strife inside his elbow it was something of an achievement for Beltran to give the Yankees even what he did, but a league average hitter who adds virtually nothing defensively or on the base paths doesn't carry much value. Beltran served as DH in around 70 percent of his starts this year and when he did give it a go in right, he was predictably uninspiring, posting a UZR/150 of -26.9 in 259.2 innings. It all amounted to the first negative WAR of Beltran's seventeen-year career. Looking back, it's fair to argue that Beltran should have had his surgery - which he finally underwent on Tuesday - right away, to return at something closer to full strength after the All-Star break.
Did the Yankees get what they deserved for inking a player who would be 37 on opening day to a hefty three-year deal? Paying Beltran $15 million per through his age 39 season seemed like a reach, but they couldn't have predicted the extent to which he'd flop in year one. During his two-year stint in St. Louis, Beltran hit .283/.343/.493 with 56 homers while avoiding any chronic health issues, playing in 296 of a possible 324 games. But Beltran did break and now we're staring down two more years and a lot of uncertainty. Bone spur repair is a surgery that many players have returned from successfully, but at Beltran's age rehabbing from anything is more difficult. Even if he is firing on all cylinders by spring training, there's no way to know to what extent his poor play this year was directly attributable to his injury. It wouldn't be a shock to see a healthy Beltran return to his Cardinals form, but a plateau or even a further decline from 2014 is possible, too. Despite their financial commitment the Yankees need to look at anything they get from Beltran over the next two years as a gift - if they're smart, he won't factor heavily into their plans.
Probably the most glaring reason why the Yankees failed to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive year in 2014 is that the players they hoped would anchor the middle of their lineup simply didn't. Though health problems were at least partially to blame, Beltran was a major culprit in that. His drive to play through injury was impressive, but in the end his choice to do so probably hurt the team more than it helped.