December 22, 2011: Cardinals sign Carlos Beltran in wake of Pujols’ departure

After Albert Pujols signed a record 10-year, $254-million contract with the Angels following the 2011 season, the Cardinals had a short list of free agents who could fill their sudden need for an impact bat.

Carlos Beltran’s name was at the top of the list. On December 22, 2011, the Cardinals signed the 1999 American League Rookie of the Year and six-time all-star to a two-year, $26-million contract.

“I think that he was the one guy who you look at the free-agent market and could say how he really fit well with what we’re doing,” outfielder Matt Holliday said. “You don’t replace Albert, because it’s impossible to replace the best hitter of the era, but by adding Beltran, you get a player who is confident in the postseason and is going to (impact) the lineup. You add another guy to a lineup that will hit doubles and home runs and get on base. Not as often as Albert, but we’re going to have potential.”[1]

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said he envisioned Beltran batting second in the lineup in front of Holliday and Lance Berkman.[2] The more significant shuffle would take place defensively, with Berkman moving from right field to first base. With Allen Craig expected to miss the early weeks of the season while he recovered from knee surgery, Beltran was expected to take over right field. Once Craig returned to action, Beltran was expected to share time with Jon Jay in center field and Craig in right.

Though Beltran was a three-time Gold Glove Award winner with the Mets, there were questions as to whether he could return to center field. In January 2010, Beltran underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee. Playing for the Mets and Giants in 2011, Beltran played all his games in right field.

To keep his knee healthy, Beltran adopted new training methods, including low-intensity running in the pool.[3]

“I am healthy enough to play the outfield,” Beltran said. “I felt real good through last season. I didn’t have an issue at all with the knee, and I think that’s because I worked hard and followed a program to keep my knee strong.”[4]

The Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, and Indians each were pursuing Beltran, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto each told Beltran that playing as a designated hitter in the AL would prolong his career.[5]

The opportunity to continue to play the outfield was part of the reason Beltran chose St. Louis. After Pujols signed with the Angels, the Cardinals continued to speak with his agent, Dan Lozano. Only this time, they were discussing Beltran, who also was represented by Lozano.

The 34-year-old Beltran wasn’t interested.

“I want to play in the field at this stage in my career,” he said. “I feel I can still make a difference in the field. If you’re having a tough day offensively, you can go out and play good defense and still change the game. If you’re a DH, there’s nothing you can do with a tough day.”[6]

The Post-Dispatch reported that Beltran had at least one three-year offer and was believed to have at least one offer with a higher average annual value than what the Cardinals offered.[7]

Beltran, however, was looking for more than money.

“What they just did (this) year winning the World Series – that was a big influence on me,” he said. “I’m looking for an opportunity to win a championship. That’s what I want in my career. I believe the Cardinals are a club that can do it again. … Obviously, Albert Pujols is not there and there’s no one who can replace him, but this team is still capable of winning.”[8]

Beltran’s commitment to winning was obvious to new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after he called to welcome him to the team.

“The entire time he was talking about what he could do to help the other people and the lineup,” Matheny said. “I think he has those intangibles that will fit into the clubhouse. His career and the things he’s done on the field – there are a lot of metrics that can show that. Talking to him showed me what else he’ll bring.”[9]

Beltran already was familiar with several of his new teammates, having played alongside Yadier Molina for the Puerto Rican national team, which was managed by Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo. Berkman also played alongside Berkman in Houston in 2004.

In that season’s NLCS, Beltran proved to be the Astros’ most dangerous hitter, batting .417 with four homers against the Cardinals. After the Cardinals won the series to capture the National League pennant, Beltran signed a seven-year, $119 million contract with the Mets.

In 2006, Beltran famously was frozen by an Adam Wainwright curveball with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of NLCS Game 7. The called third strike sent St. Louis to the World Series, where they defeated the Tigers in five games.

“Beltran is a proven outfielder who obviously has been a tough opponent against the Cardinals for many years,” Mozeliak said in a statement released after Beltran’s signing. “It is going to be nice to have his bat and competitive nature working for us instead of on the other side of the field for the next couple of years.”[10]

After his knee injury limited him to just 64 games in 2010, Beltran played in 142 games in 2011. In 98 games with the Mets, he batted .289/.391/.513 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs. On July 28, the Mets traded him to the Giants for Zach Wheeler. In 44 games with the Giants, Beltran finished the season strong, batting .323/.369/.551 with seven homers and 18 RBIs.

His .385 on-base percentage ranked seventh in the National League while his on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .910 ranked ninth in the league. With the addition of Beltran, the Cardinals’ 2012 lineup was slated to three of the previous season’s National League OPS leaders, including Berkman (fourth, .959) and Holliday (seventh, .912). Pujols’ .906 OPS ranked 10th in the NL.

“Beltran may not be Pujols. But if 2011 was an indication, Beltran doesn’t have to be Pujols,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote. “Being Carlos Beltran is good enough.”[11]

Indeed it was. Beltran was named an all-star in both his seasons in St. Louis. In 2012, he hit .269/.346/.495 with 32 homers and 97 RBIs. He followed that performance by batting .296/.339/.491 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs in 2013. Despite the early discussions of Beltran playing center field, he made just seven starts at the position, instead establishing himself as the team’s everyday right fielder.

Beltran appeared in the postseason for the Cardinals in both seasons, hitting five homers and driving in 21 runs. In 98 postseason at-bats, Beltran hit .306, including a 5-for-17 (.294) performance in the 2013 World Series.

After the 2013 season, Beltran declined the Cardinals’ one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer. When the Yankees signed Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract, the Cardinals received a compensation pick in the 2014 draft and selected right-handed pitcher Jack Flaherty with the 34th overall selection.

Beltran played the next four seasons with the Yankees, Rangers, and Astros. He played his final major-league season in 2017, when he won the World Series with the Astros. Across a 20-year big-league career, he played in 2,586 games, batting .279/.350/.486 during that span. He was named to nine all-star games, won three Gold Gloves, and twice won the Silver Slugger Award.


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[1] Derrick Goold, “Cards recast MV3,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 2011.

[2] Derrick Goold, “Moving on from Pujols,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 23, 2011.

[3] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[4] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[5] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[6] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Moving on from Pujols,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 23, 2011.

[8] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[9] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[10] R.B. Fallstrom, “Beltran joins World Series champs,” San Francisco Examiner, December 23, 2011.

[11] Bernie Miklasz, “No replacing Pujols,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 23, 2011.

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