If you thought Carlos Beltran turning 40 next April would keep him to a one-year deal, you thought wrong. Probably. Maybe. As the offseason progresses, there’s more and more indication that it’s going to take two to get things done with the veteran outfielder. Most recently, Jim Bowden has chimed in, estimating that Beltran will come in at two years and $30 million. Say what you will about The Artist Formerly Known as Ralph, he has a decent history with these things.
Let’s assume, for the moment, that Bowden is right. That Beltran will take two years and $30 million to sign. He’s emerged as the most likely candidate to fill the role David Ortiz has vacated at DH, but much of that speculation has been based on the idea that the Red Sox are looking for a bit of a budget replacement. If that’s a fair description of Beltran even at 2/$30 when compared with Edwin Encarnacion (who, for the record, Bowden expects to get five years and $120 million), it also might not be exactly what the Red Sox may have had in mind.
In terms of pure value on a year-to-year basis, it’s going to be pretty tough for Beltran to really pay off at that dollar value. While he was worth about two wins last year, and by current market standards that would actually be a reasonable return for $15 million (though perhaps not what teams hope for when they offer it), there’s serious question as to whether he can reproduce a 122 OPS+ season in 2016. You don’t really want a player’s contract to be valued at their upside, and with Beltran, it’s hard to argue that wouldn’t be what the Red Sox are doing. Unless Beltran is going to pull a David Ortiz and play like he’s in his prime again in his final years, it’s crazy to expect Beltran to outperform his 2016 self, or even really believe it’s much within the realm of possibility. 2016, after all, was his best performance since 2013 by OPS+, and best by OPS since 2011. And while the trend line is headed in a nice direction, it’s silly to rely on that at Beltran’s age.
There’s something to be said, though, for the idea that the Red Sox aren’t really going to be spending that money elsewhere if they don’t give it to Beltran. Sure, they’ll still pick up a bat, but chances are it won’t be one that’s actually significantly better than Beltran. Their objections to Encarnacion, after all, are likely based as much or more on the years he’ll command as the dollars. No, they’ll likely head back into the mid-range market, and while there’s options there, they aren’t going to look better than Beltran. If you accept that they’re not going all-in on the highest-value free agent relievers—as much because they can’t offer them a closing role as anything else—then they may as well drop those few extra million dollars here if it gets them the better player.
So how about that extra year, then? As it turns out...it’s not terribly important. The Red Sox, as with so many other teams in baseball, are currently set up with an eye towards the 2018-19 free agent class. That offseason will see the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper among many more hit the open market. David Price and Craig Kimbrel will join that market (unless Price doesn’t opt out, in which case it likely spells huge trouble for the Red Sox, but that’s for another time).
After the 2017 season, however? Not so much. Of the players currently on the roster, Clay Buchholz and Chris Young are the only players whose contracts are set to run out after this coming season, and the Sox might well not even need to look outside to replace them. No, barring bad news, the Red Sox have much of their ducks in a row even through the end of 2018. Hell, it’s not until 2020 that the first of their young stars (Xander Bogaerts) is set to hit free agency.
That means the Red Sox might well feel free to give Beltran that extra year if he needs it, knowing that the worst-case scenario sees them needing a replacement for him in 2018 while he’s still on the payroll. And that might well come from within, too, if things go well with the various guys lined up for third base this year.
It might also go poorly, and there’s really no saying at any time what new needs could pop up over the course of a season. If the Red Sox look like they can absorb that second year right now, that doesn’t mean things will look nearly so good in 12 months’ time. Throwing around extra years is always going to be a risk. But if you see the Red Sox go to multiple years for a 40-year-old player, it’s probably because they don’t see too much difference between a one-year and two-year deal made right now.