As I watched Carlos Beltran play this year, I was constantly reminded of what a great player he used to be. He could hit for average and power, he could run the bases, he could cover ground in the outfield, and sweet lord, he could throw.
It is a near consensus among Yankee fans that signing Alex Rodriguez to a new 10-year albatross of a deal was their worst move between 2000 and 2009. And it was a bad move, a terrible decision, and one for which they will continue to pay for into the foreseeable future. I'm not going to argue if you think it was a mistake, because I think it was a mistake. If the Yankee front office had played Alex Rodriguez in 2007 half as hard as they played Derek Jeter when his last contract came due, the Yankees might not be saying ridiculous things like "We expect Alex to be our starting third baseman."
But I would argue that the move that cost the Yankees the most rings was their failure to sign Carlos Beltran when he was a free agent before the 2005 season. From age 28-32, he hit .281/.368/.505, won three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers and averaged 135 games played. Yankees center fielders in that span hit .265/.330/.392, and neither the desiccated remains of Bernie Williams nor Johnny Damon were in the running for a Gold Glove.
What did the Yankees do instead of signing Carlos Beltran? They traded a 27-year-old Javier Vazquez, who had put up an uneven but serviceable 198.0 innings pitched, for the opportunity to give an extension to the 41-year-old Randy Johnson, who promptly wilted in the spotlight.
I think this bad decision all stems from the grand slam Vazquez gave up in Game 7 of 2004 (a bases loaded situation He wouldn't have been in if Kevin Brown wasn't such a pig-headed embarrassment and had admitted that his back hurt too much to pitch. Like Nook Laloosh, Kevin Brown was only just smart enough to punch with his non-pitching hand).
In retrospect, Joe Torre should have been fired after 2004; not because his team collapsed around him, but because by that point it was obvious that his treatment of his pitchers was damaging them. Javier Vazquez, Jeff Weaver, Ted Lilly– Torre was trusted with a solid roster of mid-rotation starters in those years and he managed to get the least out of all of them with his short hooks and veteran praise.
Vazquez was shown the door and the Yankees invested their money in a veteran ace. They lost the 2005 ALDS to the Angels and the 2006 ALDS to the Tigers and the 2007 ALDS to the Indians. Randy Johnson pitched poorly, giving up five runs in 2005 and in 2006.
I don't believe Beltran and Sheffield would have collided in the outfield in 2005. Sheffield wouldn't have spent all season trying to cover for Bernie and be surprised to run into Bubba Crosby. With Beltran, maybe the Yankees' hitters wouldn't have looked so overmatched in 2006 and 2007. Meanwhile, Beltran wasted his talents in Queens.
I think if the Yankees were granted one do-over from the aughts, they should bring Beltran onboard nearly a decade sooner. What do you think?