At this point in his career, Carlos Beltran is obviously not the player he once was. He needs to be replaced in the field late in games. The speed that led to 311 stolen bases is gone, and he has dealt with a myriad of injuries. Yet the soon-to-be 39-year-old may be one of the keys to the Yankees' success if the team is to return to the playoffs in 2016.
There are many fans in Yankeeland who have expressed much frustration and disappointment in Beltran over the past two seasons. Yes, his first year in pinstripes was a disaster (.233/.301/.402 and a 96 wRC+, his worst season on offense in a decade), as was the first month of 2015 (.162/.216/.265 with zero dingers). The calls were out for his benching, or possibly even a full release for the former All-Star..
However, once the calendar changed to May, Beltran's fortunes changed as well. The veteran outfielder hit .295/.357/.505 while hitting all 22 of his home runs last season after May 1st. He was arguably the team's most consistent hitter throughout the summer, and he helped fill the large gap created by the injury to Mark Teixeira in mid-August as the Yankees tried to keep pace with the surging Toronto Blue Jays (Beltran hit .353/.431/.635 with five home runs in August, including this huge one in Toronto).
Can Beltran replicate his mostly successful 2015 this season? The well-regarded PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus forecast a .260/.325/.452 season with 27 doubles and 22 homers in 558 plate appearances, good for a .269 TAv (Total Average). It's not as high as the .280 TAv he produced last year, but hits the happy medium above his 2014 figure.
Here is what a few other projection systems expect from Beltran in 2016 (numbers from FanGraphs):
For reference, here are Beltran's full numbers from 2015:
While there is a bit of a drop-off, that kind of production can still be described as well above-average for an outfielder in his age-39 season. Obviously, there aren't many full-time outfielders over the age of 39 who have been able to produce over 100 wRC+ (league average). Here are just a few examples of what other outfielders who fit that description (full-time outfielders, at least 39 years old, and with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title: 502) over the past decade have produced:
2015 Torii Hunter: 90 wRC+, .240/.293/.409
2013 Ichiro Suzuki: 72 wRC+, .262/.297/.342
2011 Raul Ibanez: 90 wRC+, .245/.289/.419
2007 Kenny Lofton: 108 wRC+, .296/.367/.414
2007 Luis Gonzalez: 109 wRC+, .278/.359/.433
(It should be noted that in 2007, Barry Bonds and Moises Alou had wRC+ totals of 157 and 137, respectively, but both fell short of having the number of plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.)
However, with the addition of the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks, Beltran likely won't be asked to take on the everyday role that the above names handled, which he primarily had to fill last season. In fact, a Beltran/Hicks platoon might work out nicely considering the 2015 numbers of Hicks against left-handed pitchers (.307/.375/.495 with a 139 wRC+) and Beltran versus right-handers (.285/.350/.481 with a 127 wRC+). Plus Beltran, who has earned the reputation of someone who thrives in pressure situations (just look at his insane playoff numbers), was as good as ever in high leverage situations in 2015, hitting .311 with a .979 OPS and 147 wRC+ in 68 plate appearances.
Last Friday, Beltran told ESPN New York that he "would love to play 20 years in the big leagues" (2016 will be his 19th season in the majors). Even if Beltran meets his projected production this season, there doesn't seem to be any scenario right now that leads to the Yankees re-signing the switch-hitter for one more season given the fact that Alex Rodriguez is under contract for one more year to serve as the DH, with Aaron Judge knocking on the major league door.
However, before we look to the future, there is still one more year with Beltran, and there surely will be an injury or two that pops up, forcing him to miss time. It's almost a sure thing. Despite that, his excellent peripheral stats (and the multitude of examples of his influence on the Yankees' young prospects and positive clubhouse presence) provide hope that the former star will make significant contributions to the success of the 2016 Yankees.