As we continue our series of Hall of Fame ballot previews with the MLB season on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have reached the incoming class of 2023, or 2017 retirees from the MLB. Today, we look at Carlos Beltrán, a nine-time All-Star who won the Rookie of the Year award in 1999.
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Beltrán was a highly touted prospect after being taken in the second round of the 1995 draft out of high school in Puerto Rico by the Royals. After going homerless in 52 games in rookie ball the rest of that summer, his raw power started to show up as he smacked seven home runs in 70 games on his way to a .723 OPS with 11 steals in 1996 while advancing to single-A. That earned him the #93 spot in Baseball America’s pre-1997 prospect rankings. He struggled in 1997, hitting just .229 but picking up 11 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 120 games at high-A. He fell just off the top-100 radar before having a big year in 1998. He was hitting .276 with five home runs and 11 stolen bases in 52 games at high-A before being promoted to double-A and hitting .352 with 14 home runs and seven steals in 47 games there, which was enough for the Royals to give him a September call-up. BA had him as its #14 prospect heading into the 1999 season.
Beltrán made sure the Royals knew he was ready for the big leagues with that September call-up, as he hit .276 with five doubles, three triples, and three stolen bases without being caught in 14 games. His rookie season in 1999 was fantastic, hitting .293 with 27 doubles, 22 home runs and 27 stolen bases. In the steroid era high-offense period of 1999, his .791 OPS was only good for a 99 OPS+, but he also had possibly his best defensive season in center field that year and won Rookie of the Year while producing 4.7 WAR.
In 2000, Beltrán suffered a sophomore slump as his OPS+ dipped from 99 to 69, leading the Royals to decrease his playing time (he played 98 games compared to 156 in ’99) and even briefly send him to the minors, where he hit five home runs in nine games. In the majors, he hit just seven home runs in 98 games. He did greatly increase his efficiency on the basepaths, however, stealing 13 bases without getting caught after being caught stealing eight times the previous year. He would continue to be incredible on the basepaths in the coming years, stealing 149 bases and being caught stealing just 15 times from 2001-’04.
Those years also saw Beltrán develop into a star at the plate, as his power and patience became more developed with increased walk totals every year from 2000-’04 and he averaged 32 doubles, 10 triples and 29 home runs from 2001-’04. This included a 38-homer, 42-steal season in 2004 around a midseason trade to the Astros. That offseason, he was one of the most coveted free agents and signed a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets that made him the NL’s highest-paid player in 2008 and in the top 10 in the MLB from 2008-2010.
His first year with the Mets was disappointing, as Beltrán posted his lowest figures in each of the triple slash hitting categories since his dreadful 2000 season, and producing less than 20 home runs and steals for the first time since ’00 as well. He bounced back in a big way in 2006, though, posting career highs in home runs (41), runs (127), RBI (116), walks (95), slugging (.594) and OPS (.982) while finishing fourth for the MVP award, the only top-5 finish of his career. It was also his first of back-to-back years winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. He would earn a third Gold Glove in 2008 before his speed started waning and he was no longer an elite outfielder.
Injury issues in 2009 and 2010 limited Beltrán to just 145 games in those two years combined after playing at least 140 games every year from 2001-’08 and ultimately forced him out of center field. In 2011, his first year as a right fielder, he logged a career-high in OPS+ (154) while hitting .300 for the first time since he called the expansive Kauffman Stadium home (though he hit .325 in 81 games in 2009 and likely would have finished the year over .300 if he hadn’t gotten hurt). He was traded to the Giants at the trade deadline and got unlucky, missing the playoffs with a team that won three World Series in five years around that season. He signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Cardinals that offseason.
Beltrán made two more All-Star games and provided some big playoff moments in St Louis, as both seasons there he had an OPS+ over 120 and in the 2013 playoffs he drove in 15 runs in 17 games as the Cardinals ultimately lost the World Series to the Red Sox. It was the 36-year-old Beltrán’s first time playing in a World Series in his career.
From there, Beltrán signed with the Yankees where he was used primarily as a DH in 2014 before A-Rod returning from his PED suspension in 2015 moved Beltrán back to right field. He made his ninth and final All-Star game in 2016 as he hit .304 with 22 home runs in 99 games with the Yankees before he was traded to the Rangers and finished the season there, finishing with a .295 average and 29 home runs for a 122 OPS+.
In 2017, a 40-year-old Beltrán signed to play one final year with the Astros. Primarily a DH, he hit .231 with 14 homers, posting an 81 OPS+. At the end of the year, he was finally able to call himself a World Series champion as his Astros beat the Dodgers in seven games as Beltrán made just three plate appearances in the WS, all as a pinch-hitter.
Beltrán’s career stats:
.279/.350/.486, 2725 hits, 435 home runs, 565 doubles, 312 stolen bases, 1587 RBI, 1582 runs, 1084 walks, 119 OPS+, 70.1 WAR
So, is this guy a Hall of Famer or not?
On the surface, Beltrán looks like a good candidate, with a 119 OPS+, three Gold Gloves in center field backed up by 68 WAR runs fielding from 1998-2010, when he was playing primarily center field, 312 stolen bases with the best stolen base percentage of anyone with at least 200 stolen bases since 1951 (as far back as the Baseball-Reference database has SB%). Along with being one of eight members of the 300-home run, 300-stolen base club, he is also one of eight players with at least 150 WAR runs batting, 30 WAR runs fielding and 40 WAR runs baserunning. The other players in that group are Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Rickey Henderson, Larry Walker, Chase Utley and Billy Hamilton (Sliding Billy, who played from 1888-1901, not the modern-day Billy Hamilton).
Statistically, Beltrán belongs in the Hall of Fame. But he’s not completely a slam dunk, and his role in the 2017 Astros sign-stealing scandal could come back to haunt him. He wasn’t very productive that year, and could have retired after 2016 with a Hall of Fame candidacy just as solid as the one he has now, statistically. But “he belonged in the Hall of Fame before he cheated” arguments haven’t worked with steroid users, and I don’t see why they would with Beltrán. The Mets fired him as their manager before he managed even a Spring Training game when the MLB found that Beltrán was not only involved as a player on that team, but that the sign-stealing idea came primarily from him and then-bench coach Alex Cora, who was fired by the Red Sox after one year as their manager in 2018, when Boston was also found to be stealing signs on their way to a World Series title, though the Red Sox’s infractions were considered less egregious than those of the Astros.
Beltrán ranks in the top 100 all-time in WAR for position players, games played, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBI, walks, extra-base hits, times on base, and defensive metrics peg him as a great defensive center fielder. He also ranks ninth in the power-speed #, a stat developed by Bill James to combine a player’s home runs and stolen bases into one statistic, since it’s uncommon for a player to excel at both. The players ahead of him are Bonds, Henderson, Mays, Rodriguez, Bobby Bonds, Joe Morgan, Andre Dawson, and Aaron. His production absolutely puts him in a group with Hall of Famers, but the perception of the Astros sign-stealing scandal in 2023 could have settled some, or it could grow to challenge the 1919 Black Sox scandal or the steroids era. Until we know how that is viewed in the future, we can’t say whether or not Carlos Beltrán will make the Hall of Fame.
Up next: Jered Weaver
Stats and info courtesy of Baseball-Reference.