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January 3, 2005

Yanks Don't Want Beltran? Now That's Big
by SG

According to Murray Chass in the article linked above, Carlos Beltran may not be in the Yankees' plans any longer.

But if a weekend signal is accurate, the most intriguing story has yet to happen. If it does happen, it will be a nonmove, as opposed to the Martínez, Wells, Johnson, Hudson and Mulder moves.

The nonmove? The Yankees will not sign Carlos Beltran, the most attractive, and expensive, position player on the free-agent market. But it's not just that the Yankees will not be signing Beltran. The story would be that the Yankees will not even try to sign him.

That was the surprising signal from a baseball official over the weekend. The official, who is in a position to hear such things, heard last week that the Yankees did not plan to pursue Beltran.

"Someone told me the other day, if they get Johnson they wouldn't go after Beltran," the official, who refused to be named, said. "Even the Yankees have to have a limit."

This could be very problematic. Bernie Williams is not an adequate defensive CF any longer. Ultimate Zone Rating, known as UZR for short, a defensive system developed by Mitchel Lichtman had Bernie at a -44 rating last year for 150 games. What this means is that Bernie Williams's defense cost the Yankee 44 runs over the average defensive CF for every 150 games he plays. This is by far the worst rating of any defensive OF in baseball, and would cost the Yankees around 4 wins.

The Mets are making a big push for Beltran, and it is looking more and more unlikely that he will be playing for the Yankees next year. With a farm system that has been further depleted in the Johnson trade, and no one on the farm ready to come up and play CF in the majors, the Yankees have some very limited options at this point.

1) Play Bernie as the everyday CF
2) Move Matsui to CF, shift Bernie to left
3) Move Matsui to CF, sign someone to play left, have Bernie DH
4) Get another CF somehow

I would guess that option 1 is the worst one. Knowing the way Joe Torre and the Yankees operate, it is also the most likely.

Option 2 is risky, because you'd still have Bernie playing in the field, and we don't know how well Matsui would do in CF.

Option 3 is probably not much of one, as there is very little available on the free agent market at this point. Perhaps someone like Jeromy Burnitz could be signed to a one year deal or something.

Option 4 is probably the best choice if they can't get Beltran. However, the Yankees are probably stuck with the most inflexible roster in basball. It's not that they have bad players, they have very good players, but they are either overpaid, aging, or have no-trade clauses. In this case, they would have to try and get a CF in a contract dump or something. I'd guess the people most likely to fit this description would be Preston Wilson from Colorado or Ken Griffey from Cincinnati. However, neither one is very good defensively any more (although far better than Bernie), and both come with big contracts and injury issues. Another option could be Darrin Erstad, but I think the Angels overvalue him and would not want to get rid of him for nothing, which is basically what the Yankees could offer right now.

It's too soon to know what will happen with Beltran, and this is just another article in an offseason full of stories that were inaccurate or premature, so it's probably not time to panic yet. However, watch Beltran's dealing with the Mets very closely over the next few days.

I wonder if Philadelphia would undo the Lofton for Felix Rodriguez trade?