Reviewing the Beltran-for-Wheeler Trade

MLB: SEP 22 Mets v MarlinsTwo and a half years have passed since Sandy Alderson traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. At the time, the move was widely praised. In fact, most considered it a steal, particularly since Beltran went on to sign with the Cardinals that offseason making the deal a clear loser for the Giants. But were the Mets winners here? Maybe not.

At the time, the team viewed Beltran as expendable because he was in the last season of his seven-year deal with the Mets and, at 34, most likely on the backside of a distinguished career. They also worried that a new contract for Beltran would be too much money while the team was looking to rebuild and looking to do it with a treasury depleted by the disastrous effects of the Madoff episode.

By contrast, Wheeler represented the future, a top pitching prospect with plus velocity and, significantly, he came cheap. But Beltran’s performance did not go south. Indeed, after signing a two-year deal with the Cardinals for $26 million, he hit 56 home runs and collected 181 RBIs over that span, far greater than the totals for any Met over the same two seasons. He was healthy both years – with over 600 plate appearances each season – and was critical to the Cardinals success in getting to the World Series in 2013. This winter he signed with the Yankees for three more years and $45 million. Some decline.

Now, let’s assume for the moment that Beltran remains similarly productive for two of the next three years. (A big if, I realize, but maybe not when you consider that as a switch-hitter Beltran will be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field fence.) That means that he will have had four and a half productive seasons after leaving the Mets. If he remains productive for his entire Yankee contract, he will have had five and a half.

WheelerMeanwhile, what has Wheeler done? Sure, he moved into the rotation last year and put up solid numbers. The team is now hoping that he will have a break out season in 2014 the way that Matt Harvey did in 2013. But nearly three years after he was traded to the Mets Wheeler is still essentially unrealized potential while Beltran has been fact. The Mets, as it turns out, have plenty of young pitchers with potential, but what have they most needed over the past two years? A solid bat to hit behind Wright. A power hitter who responds in the clutch. They’ve needed, well, Beltran.

Of course, this winter the team signed Curtis Granderson to be that bat. They spent $60 million for four years, which averages out to $15 million a year, two million dollars more than the Cardinals paid him in 2012 and 2013 and the same salary the Yankees will now be paying Beltran for three years. Grandy does not hit much for average, but at his best, he has shown more power than Beltran. Still, in the last full season by which to make a comparison, 2012 (Grandy missed most of 2013 due to injury), the lefty Granderson hit all but three of his 42 home runs to right field and 28 of those were to the short porch in the Bronx. Meanwhile, Beltran’s 32 homers were evenly divided between left and right. Most telling, eight of Grandy’s homers would have been outs in Citi Field while all of Beltran’s would have cleared the fences in Queens.

You may be wondering how Sandy Alderson would have found the $13 million a year necessary to sign Beltran for 2012 and 2013, but just note that between them Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch made $12 million in 2012 for what turned out to be a collectively undistinguished performance. Let’s hope that Wheeler turns into a stud pitcher for the Mets and that Granderson finds the few extra feet of power that will make him a valuable bat behind Wright. But it is no longer so clear that sending Beltran out of town for Wheeler was such a slam dunk, and now we have to watch him finish his career in close proximity, across town with the Yankees.

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