St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran walks to the field after striking out against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium. Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
Carlos Beltran was an All-Star, and he was one of the frontrunners for MVP in the early part of the season. What happened, and what should the Cardinals do?
It's a big league and a long season, so even when you're trying to pay attention to all 30 teams and all 700 or so players, you'll still get surprised. You might be surprised that Matt Wieters isn't having that great of a season because you stopped paying attention to him after April. That's just one example.
As you've guessed by the title of this post, my blind spot this season has been Carlos Beltran. As the proprietor of a Giants blog, I spent my offseason railing against the organization for ignoring Beltran. I wanted them to re-sign Beltran. That was the only move I wanted them to make. Beltran Beltran Beltran. It was an obsession, the kind of one-note solution that opinionated fanboys dream about.
When the Giants went into the season with Melky Cabrera instead, it was something of a travesty, in my opinion. That opinion looked really, really stupid for a while, but it's about time that illicit pharmaceuticals and poor decision-making made my judgment look better.
Melky did just fine until the, well, you know, but that only took a little of the sting off. Because Carlos Beltran was crushing the ball. He was making St. Louis forget about Albert Pujols the player, and start thinking about Albert Pujols, the $250-million commitment they didn't have to think about anymore. Beltran wasn't just an All-Star, he was an MVP candidate. And with an MVP and a couple more good years, suddenly there could be Cooperstown talk about him. Boy howdy, how the Cardinals nabbing Beltran was the best move of the offseason. We should all be so lucky.
Carlos Beltran's season:
He's down to a .335 on-base percentage for the season. The Cardinals might have one of the best run differentials in baseball, but they're still scrapping for the last playoff spot. It's not like Beltran's entirely responsible for the Cardinals underachieving, but he's been linked to this stuff before.
It's probably just a garden-variety slump, combined with the late-season bumps and nicks you'd expect from a guy in his mid-30s. He wasn't as good as his early-season domination, and he's not as bad as he's looked in the second-half. Add them together, and you have the player the Cardinals were more or less hoping for. And with a talented player going through a slump, there really isn't anything to do. You trust the talent and wait for him to snap out of it.
Except this isn't the typical team. This is the Cardinals. And the Cardinals grow first basemen and corner outfielders in petri dishes. And when they're bored, they go out and raid the first basemen and corner outfielders from other organizations. They have Lance Berkman, Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, and Beltran available for two spots. Most of the time, Carpenter and Berkman are the odd players out, though Mike Matheny has been playing Carpenter at third base to spell David Freese.
The typical rules don't apply to the Cardinals, who are one of the few teams who might have internal options that could be better than a slumping Beltran. How long can they wait for him to snap out of it? Beltran didn't start in either of the Cardinals' wins on Monday or Tuesday, ostensibly because of a bruised left knee. He was back in the lineup on Wednesday, and he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in a Cardinals loss. #blamebeltran
This is normally the part of the article where I'd suggest that Beltran is fine, point to his track record, mumble something about sample size, and make a, I don't know, Thundercats reference or something. Except Matt Carpenter is good. Lance Berkman is good. Allen Craig is good. They're all good, and one of them has to sit if Beltran is going to play. It's a tough decision.
I'd stick with Beltran. But I wouldn't blame the Cardinals if they phased him out of the lineup a little bit more with each oh-fer. There isn't really a good answer, mostly because there isn't really a wrong answer. It's not the worst problem to have.