COMMENTARY | The San Francisco Giants need a left fielder. Could they possibly find one by turning to an old friend?
OK, "friend" might be a relative term when talking about Carlos Beltran. He wasn't a Giant for very long, his stint in San Francisco was marred by injuries and isn't remembered very fondly by a lot of Giants fans, and the Giants traded Zack Wheeler for him.
The most popular Giant in history, he isn't. But Beltran could very well help the Giants fill a gaping hole in their lineup if he'd be open to a return to San Francisco.
The market for outfielders isn't very strong this winter. The consensus top two free agents, Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury, are likely out of the Giants' price range. The next tier isn't very exciting, with names like Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz, David DeJesus, and others. Beltran sticks out as the best hitter of the bunch and the one player who could do the most to help strengthen the middle of the Giants' order.
There are obvious concerns about Beltran's age and injury history, but he's missed only 28 games over the past two seasons in St. Louis and has put up All-Star numbers each year. In the last two years combined, Beltran has hit .282/.343/.493 for the Cardinals with 56 HRs and 181 RBIs, so it's not as if his skills are in rapid decline. But even a declining Beltran would offer more production than what the Giants received from their left fielders this past year.
Beltran will be finishing a contract that has paid him $26 million over two years. Taking his production into account, he's likely going to be looking for a raise and a multi-year commitment, possibly even three years. There's definite risk to offering a long-term contract to a player who'll turn 37 in 2014, and the Giants may be gun-shy after watching Marco Scutaro break down this season after giving him a three year deal of his own last winter.
But in a thin market with zero outfield help to be found in the farm system, the Giants may be willing to roll the dice on a productive older player one more time. Beltran's durability the last few seasons might ease their minds, as well as the fact that he'd be asked to play left field rather than having to cover right-center.
The Giants learned that a platoon of guys best suited to be backup outfielders doesn't work over the course of a full season in 2013. Beltran would be a tremendous upgrade over Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres/Jeff Francoeur/Roger Kieschnick/Brett Pill/Whoever and would make the lineup much more dangerous. Blanco would be able to go back to being an above average backup outfielder and still get plenty of at-bats while spelling Beltran and Angel Pagan, and the Giants' bench would be strengthened as a result.
Beltran should have plenty of suitors this winter and there's no guarantee that he'd even be open to a reunion with the Giants, but that shouldn't stop them from at least exploring the possibility. He's the best outfield bat available at a salary the Giants would be comfortable with and if the Giants hope to be in contention next year, they can't afford to "dumpster dive" for a left fielder again. They need a legitimate major-league bat there, not a glorified platoon player. Finding one via trade is another possibility, but instead of trading away prospects they should look to the free agent market first to see if they can find an answer.
Carlos Beltran could be that answer, again. And this time the Giants wouldn't even have to give up Kyle Crick to get him.
Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay Area writer whose work on the Giants has appeared on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Sports' Big League Stew. Follow him on Twitter @gggiants.
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