- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
The Carlos Beltran trade didn't work out for the Giants, who surrendered their top pitching prospect for the veteran switch-hitter only to see him get hurt early in his tenure with the team. San Francisco was basically out of contention the last couple of months.
But in the 44 games in which Giants manager Bruce Bochy penciled Beltran's name into the lineup, he liked what he saw -- a lot. "What you heard before we got him is that he'd give you good at-bats, and that's exactly what he did," Bochy said Tuesday. "He did all that we could've asked him for. He can hit, and from both sides of the plate. He's got such great balance, and he's a smart hitter."
The Mets' greatest concern about Beltran going into the 2011 season was the condition of his surgically repaired knee, and during Beltran's time with the Giants in the last two months, Bochy said, the knee was never a concern. He hit .323 for San Francisco, with a .920 OPS, and in the final month of the season, he had a whole lot to do with the fact that the Giants ranked fourth in the NL in OPS.
Some other team could get that kind of jolt next year, because in the next 72 hours, Beltran is expected to pick his next employer -- the Toronto Blue Jays, perhaps, or the Boston Red Sox, or maybe the St. Louis Cardinals. A remaining field of bidders is down to five teams.
Beltran, who turns 35 next year, could help the Cardinals replace the offense lost with the departure of Albert Pujols. For the Blue Jays, Beltran -- if healthy -- could be a tremendous complement to Jose Bautista, either benefiting from hitting right in front of him or helping to protect him while batting behind him.
He'd be a natural fit in right field with the Red Sox, although Boston might be more inclined to invest any available cash in its pitching. Beltran would be a natural for the Rays, getting a lot of home games at designated hitter rather than playing on the turf of the Trop, but Tampa Bay covets and needs payroll flexibility and typically veers away from big-money multiyear deals in older players. The Rays are in it, although given their financial restrictions, they may well be out-bid.
There were reports that the Rangers had financial concerns, but keep in mind, they'll spend more money on Yu Darvish than is spent on any other pitcher this winter, so no matter how it's spun, it's not as if they're extricating nickels from between couch cushions. Rival executives are envious of their television deal and ownership. Josh Hamilton is just a year away from free agency and the Rangers' interest in a big-money deal with the outfielder is apparently lukewarm; Beltran would be a nice fit (although to date, there is no indication Texas is engaged in the bidding).
Bochy also felt that Beltran was good in his clubhouse, helping teammates through games. "He helped [Pablo Sandoval] a lot," Bochy said. "He was a calming influence."
The fact that Beltran is represented by Albert Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, is not an impediment to a deal with St. Louis; Lozano and John Mozeliak, the St. Louis general manager, agreed after Pujols left that they wouldn't let that affect other business.
Here's what the Cardinals' lineup could look like, with Beltran:
RF Carlos Beltran
3B David Freese
CF Jon Jay
As the Cardinals talk with Beltran, they are exploring other options, as well, writes Derrick Goold.
• Buster Posey continues to make progress, as he prepares for another season at catcher, but Bochy already intends to use Posey at first base on some days, to give him a break from catching and to keep his bat in the lineup.
And Bochy also intends to keep pressing the issue of altering rules for blocking home plate, which he spoke of extensively in the days after Posey had his lower leg broken in a collision with Scott Cousins in May. Bochy has been working to build support for change by lobbying directly, speaking with other managers, such as Mike Scioscia, whom he found to be more receptive to altering the rules than Scioscia seemed to be last summer.
The model for change, Bochy feels, is contained within the rules on plays at first base -- the baserunner is given a lane to the bag.
Scott Cousins will address the Posey collision in an interview later today.
• Late last season, the Giants spoke with Aubrey Huff about improving his conditioning for the 2012 season, when he is expected to get playing time at first base. About once a week, Bochy said, Huff jokingly sends him a picture of himself shirtless -- to show his manager evidence of his improvement.
• The Mariners appear well-positioned for a sale, writes Geoff Baker. Take some time to read this story.
Kubel's home production dropped dramatically when the Twins shifted into Target Field. After batting .294 in 258 games in the Metrodome, with a .346 on-base percentage and an .841 OPS, he is hitting .254 with a .724 OPS.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Reds are close to landing reliever Sean Marshall, another win-now deal; with Marshall and Chapman at the back end of their bullpen, the Reds will have two guys with shutdown stuff. The Mat Latos deal was something that Cincinnati couldn't pass up, writes Paul Daugherty.
It stands to reason that if the Cubs are moving Marshall now, Matt Garza won't be far behind. He's a great match for the Blue Jays, because of his history of success in the AL East and because of his experience.
2. The Rays have weighed trade conversations about B.J. Upton, but the bottom line is that whatever Tampa Bay received in return for Upton probably wouldn't approach the value of what he provides -- in defense, in offense. Upton is climbing the arbitration ladder and getting more expensive, which mitigates his trade value, but the Rays -- a team that relies on pitching and defense and a productive but unspectacular lineup -- would have difficulty replacing his contribution without spending a lot of money.
6. Zachary Levine weighs the pros and cons of the 10 starting pitcher candidates for the Astros.
7. The Rangers think Darvish can be different than some of the other pitchers from Japan.
10. The Nationals signed a bunch of guys to minor league deals, writes Dave Sheinin.
12. The Cubs hired a couple of Red Sox scouts. In the end, Boston has had zero leverage in dealing with the Theo Epstein compensation issue, because it let this transaction happen without a conclusion or without rules in place about who Epstein could hire.
From the mailbag
Year after year, the Orioles have been one of the slowest-moving teams in the big leagues, and this offseason has been no different; at a time when many teams have made significant upgrades, Baltimore is left to pick over the carcass of the winter market. Keep in mind, though, that new general manager Dan Duquette wasn't in place until a few weeks ago. He's early in the process of learning about his organization, and his players. It's going to take time.
• Columnist Bill Conlin has been accused of sexually abusing children. The allegations have no bearing on the award he received at the Hall of Fame last summer, according to the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
• Richard Sandomir looks at what $20 million can buy those interested in investing in the Mets, according to the term sheet distributed by the club.
• Lance Berkman has replaced Pujols as the Cardinals' most expensive autograph.
• Before you rip Terry Ryan, you should look at his history, writes Jim Souhan.
And today will be better than yesterday.
9dJeff Banister, Special to ESPN.com
10dBrayan Pena, Special to ESPN.com
13dMatt Buschmann, Special to ESPN.com
14dA.J. Ellis, Special for ESPN.com
15dRob Manfred, Special to ESPN.com
15dSean Doolittle, Special to ESPN.com