It seems like we hear this from guys all of the time after they sign lucrative deals with the Yankees, but apparently, Carlos Beltran has always dreamed of wearing the pinstripes.
“I grew up being a Yankee fan. I grew up being a Bernie Williams fan,” Beltran said at today’s introductory press conference. “As a player, and first of all as a fan, I used to look up to this organization. They always did what it takes to put good teams out there and win championships. This team has more championships than any sports team in history, so as a player, you always want to join an organization where you’re going to have an opportunity and a chance to win a championship. In my case, last year, I was fortunate to go to my first World Series in my 15-year career. I just hope in the time that I’m going to be here, that I experience that.”
Beltran may be more believable than most because eight years ago, he almost became a Yankee. It wasn’t a big secret that Beltran — who was in the prime of his career and was considered to be the top free agent outfielder on the market — preferred the Yankees over the cross-town rival Mets, but in a display of rare restraint, the Yankees wouldn’t budge to match the Mets heftier offer.
He ended up signing with the Mets, where he had plenty of ups (at least 27 homers and 112 RBI in each season from 2006-08) and a few notable downs (an infamous strikeout against Adam Wainwright and Cardinals to eliminate the Mets in Game 7 of the ’06 NLCS, as well as some injury issues in ’09 and ’10). But now, after two very successful seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Beltran is finally joining the Yankees for what could very well be the final three seasons of his career.
“Having the opportunity to come back (to New York) as a Yankee really means a lot to me,” Beltran said. “At one point, I almost got the opportunity to sign with the Yankees. It didn’t work out, but at the end of the day, what’s in the past is in the past.”
• Most the things that Beltran said today were predictable, but he did express the fact that there is some bad blood between him and the Mets. He seemed to be upset by some of the leaks that came out during his time there, saying that they portrayed him as a “bad apple” and claiming that, “It wasn’t right.” For the most part, Beltran handles himself with professionalism, but I don’t see the point of him making those comments. It’s very believable that the Mets might not have handled everything well, but why discuss it? He should have known that the New York media was going to make it into a big deal.
• Getting back to the baseball side of things, both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi spoke about the depth and versatility that this year’s lineup should have. They lost one of the best hitters on the planet in Robinson Cano, but they have added three All-Stars in Beltran, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury. If Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira can stay healthy — big ifs, I know — then the Yankees’ offense should be significantly better than it was last season. “To be able to add another switch-hitter to the middle of the order gives me so much flexibility,” Girardi said. “We’ve talked about it – at times, we had trouble scoring runs last year. But our lineup has gotten so much deeper with guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark, get on-base, hit for average and grind out at-bats.”
• The fact that Beltran is a switch-hitter came up often today. Cashman pointed out that switch-hitters have been a staple on each of their championship teams in the past 20 years — whether it was Bernie and Posada in the ’90s, or Tex, Swisher and Posada in ’09. Girardi loves switch-hitters because they help break up the lefties in the lineup, and they should have another on the way once the Brian Roberts signing becomes official. “I think Carlos’ strengths clearly provide Joe Girardi with a lot of flexibility,” Cashman said. “The Yankees, historically since I’ve been here, have had a chance to provide the manager with some great matchups with some switch-hitters in the lineups.”
• Cashman also mentioned a handful of former Mets who went onto have success with the Yankees later in their careers. “George Steinbrenner and his family have had a chance to take some players who have been premier players across town with the Mets, and later in their careers, they’ve come over here to continue their successful run as major league players,” he said. “Those examples, clearly, are David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry – to name a few. We look forward to Carlos Beltran, who has been a New Yorker in the past and has had a lot of success and experience in this town in the past, to get reengaged with this city.”
• As I mentioned, Beltran dealt with some injury problems towards the end of his tenure with the Mets. At 36, Beltran is the oldest member of freshly signed trio, and the Yankees are counting on him to maintain his production for the entirety of the three-year, $45 million contract. It’s worth noting that he has been able to stay on the field for at least 142 games in each of the past three seasons, hitting at least 22 homers and knocking in at least 84 runs in each of those years. “There is certainly risk – there’s no doubt about that,” Cashman said. “He has gone to the National League and played right field considerably, where obviously there’s no DH over there. The Cardinals were able to put together a playing program for him where they sat him, at times, and were able to make sure that he stayed on the field. I think that in the Bronx here, as we move forward, we’ll have more of the ability to protect him, and I hope that we have the same results as they’ve had the past two years because of the DH days.”
• Girardi was asked about how he envisions the outfield shaking out. Cashman confirmed that they see Ellsbury and Brett Gardner manning left and center — although he didn’t say who he thinks will play in which spot — and then said it will be up to Girardi to figure out who fits best in right, and how to rotate the DH days. Beltran has played mostly right in recent years, whereas Alfonso Soriano has been predominantly in left. Neither are great defenders at this stage in their careers, but Soriano can be an adventure out there and Beltran seems to have the stronger arm, which makes him the more logical choice to play right. But Girardi noted that Soriano has made it clear to him he prefers to play in the field, so expect to see a lot of shuffling. “I’m going to try and move it around because Sori wants to play the outfield, as well,” Girardi said. “That’s something that I’m going to have to balance. There’s no reason that I couldn’t DH a Gardy one day, or I couldn’t DH an Ellsbury one day. The great thing about having that flexibility is that I can keep them all kind of rested.”
• One of the biggest factors that led to the Yankees wanting to sign Beltran had to be his postseason resume. He brings the reputation as one of the greatest postseason sluggers of all-time, with a career playoff average of .333 to go along with 16 homers and 40 RBI in 51 games. It’s clear that he can handle pressure situations well — the Wainwright strikeout in ’06 notwithstanding — and Girardi said he could tell that he can handle New York simply from how he was with the media today. “I’m extremely excited,” Girardi said. “I just watched how he handled this press conference and how professional he was. We’ve all seen the way that he plays the game, and you can just see that there’s a level of comfort in the spotlight. He does not get rattled with any question that he is asked, and it’s the same way on the field.”
• Interesting nugget that I picked up while listening to Beltran’s interview with WFAN on the ride home. Beltran admitted that he does think about the Hall of Fame, and when asked which team’s cap he would wear if he ever gets selected, he said the Mets would be a definite consideration. He also mentioned the Royals, where he spent the same amount of time — six and a half years — that he did with the Mets. I guess he can’t hate the Mets that much.
• Final word goes to… you guessed it… Beltran: “I know there’s going to be a lot of good things coming out of the New York Yankees. With the signings of Ellsbury, McCann, myself and the players that we have, I believe that we have a good (enough) team to go all the way. We still have to go out there on the field and perform, but most importantly, we feel that we have the players – the characters – to accomplish that.”
Post written by Vincent Z. Mercogliano/Associated Press photos