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Rogue Won: A ‘Stro Wars Story: Carlos Beltran Redux
- Updated: December 9, 2016
“In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to win the Series of the World, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the ‘Stro Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.”
At the risk of poking The Mouse, the above is a slightly (and only slightly) altered tweak of the synopsis of a new Disney film property about battling self-luminous heavenly bodies.
But, it also seems to accurately describe the 2017 Houston Astros as the parts are still being assembled during the offseason in preparation for the team’s first trip to the World Series since 2005.
With the acquisitions of position players Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, and Nori Aoki, the Astros have also added back-end starter Charlie Morton, and a couple of possibly underachieving southpaws to bolster the bullpen (Ashur Tolliver, and C.J. Riefenhauser-minor league deal with spring invite).
December 5, Houston announced the one-year, $16 million deal with Carlos Beltran, which seems to solidify a now-solid offense that is more lefty-righty balanced, and is more of a bomb-laden minefield for opposing pitchers. Where there was a drop-off, offensively, after lineup spots 1 through 4 last year, enemy arms won’t be able to simply breeze through #5-9.
At the Monday news conference, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow disclosed he had tried to trade for Beltran in July, when the switch-hitter was with the Yankees. Beltran said that Houston was the most aggressive of the 3 or 4 teams wooing him in free agency, and that the Astros were the first to make an offer.
Splitting 2016 between the Yankees and Rangers, Beltran slashed an impressive .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers.
He re-joins a Houston franchise he helped power into the 2004 postseason, with a regular season slash of .258/.368/.559, with 23 round-trippers. Next season will be the slugger’s 19th season, in a career that has seen him blast 421 home runs.
In the 2004 MLB playoffs, Beltran tied Barry Bonds‘ single postseason-record with eight home runs. He hit four in the National League Division Series (NLDS) against Atlanta. He then hit one in each of the first four games of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, including the game-winner in Game 4. The Astros came within one game of going to the 2004 World Series.
From the January 9, 2005, New York Times: “Drayton McLane, Jr., the Astros’ owner, desperately wanted to show Houston fans that he could retain Beltran and make a run at another title.
“If the 27-year-old Beltran had returned, Roger Clemens, the (2004) National League Cy Young Award winner, would have been more likely to bypass retirement and pitch another season with Houston. Without Beltran and Jeff Kent, a free agent who went to the Dodgers, Clemens might not be as amenable to returning.”
Taming the “Boos Hounds”
Having acquired Beltran in a trade with the Royals midway through the ’04 season, the Astros offered him a 7-year, $108 million contract at the end of that season, only to have him accept a 7-year, $119 million deal with the Mets.
What many subsequently full-throated booing Astros fans didn’t realize, though, was that the Mets were willing to throw in a full no-trade clause, which Houston management (led by then-owner McLane and GM Tim Purpura) were loathed to do.
In one interview, after Beltran became a Met, McLane said this: “It slipped through our fingers in the last, last few minutes. It should never, never have gotten to this.”
According to this January 10, 2005, ESPN.com article, “Beltran and his agent, Scott Boras, were OK with the seven-year, $108 million deal from the Astros. But the offer included a ‘limited’ no-trade clause— a stipulation that turned out to be the breaking point of those talks.”
From that same article, McLane defends the decision this way: “That no-trade clause was one aspect, but there certainly were other parts. They were trying to see which was the best deal they could get. We were close, but there were a number of issues that had to be resolved that never came together. There were just too many things going on.”
Beltran picks it up from there: “I know that in negotiations, the picture you sell to the fans, you can sell it any way you want it. I don’t have (anything) against the Houston fans. Honestly, I have a lot of appreciation, and I always say when you get booed in a city or in a ballpark, it’s because you have done something good in the game of baseball.
“The fact I’m coming back, the fact I’m giving myself an opportunity to come back to Houston, to a city I thought I was going to be here for a long time, I was excited.” Oh yeah, he now has that full no-trade clause in his new Houston deal.
Hermano en el Diamante
“He’s obviously one of the greatest players to come out of Puerto Rico and one of the greatest switch-hitters to play the game,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said in this August 5, 2016, Houston Chronicle article, after his trade deadline acquisition by the Rangers. “He inspired a lot of people back home. He inspired me to play the game the right way.”
Monday evening (December 5), after the Beltran signing news conference in Houston, he took new teammates Jose Altuve and Correa to dinner to get to know each other.
Beltran has already expressed his excitement at being a positive influence to the young Astro lineup: “I look forward to playing alongside Correa, and watching him play every day, and being a resource for him.”
And, in choosing Houston as the team to sign with (and return to), he said, “When I looked at the clubhouse, it wasn’t a tough decision to come back.”
Jugador en el Diamante
Astros manager A.J. Hinch has already announced that he will play the switch-hitting Beltran at both DH and LF, the latter most likely against left-handed pitchers (lefty Aoki would play LF against right-handed pitchers). Interestingly, in nearly two decades in the majors, Beltran has only managed to log two games in LF. But, the field that fronts the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park is small enough that Beltran should have no trouble adjusting.
“I expressed myself to A.J., saying that I would love to be in the outfield here and there,” Beltran said this past week. “I think it will keep me in the game, but at the end of the day, I understand A.J. will be the manager, and he will put the best lineup out there to make it work, so he has every day a good, competitive lineup. If I’m a DH and I get the opportunity to play a little left or a little right, I’m fine with that.”
Beltran, last season with the Rangers and New York’s pinstripers, hit a swelled .338/.380/.589, with 9 homers against southpaws in 163 plate appearances. Not that he was a slouch facing righties, but that line against lefties will be too juicy for Hinch to ignore. You can expect to see him split time, too, with C/DH Evan Gattis at DH, when “Oso Blanco” isn’t catching.
Hinch also envisions Beltran batting in the heart of the Houston lineup, in the 4-5-6 range, but it will “depend on how the top of the order plays out.”
In fact, Hinch said this week that his former teammate, Beltran, “was the best player I ever played with.” The two shared a Kansas City Royals uniform in 2001 and ’02.
Moreover, Beltran was once teammates with newly signed bench coach, Alex Cora (Mets in 2009 and ’10). Houston Chronicle reporter Jake Kaplan suggests those two Astros’ familiarity with Beltran may have played a significant role in the urgency with which the team pursued him.
“It’s been 12 years, brother,” said Beltran, recently. “Honestly, there’s a lot of things that I don’t even remember, other than the great playoff that I had (in Houston).”
“People can say anything. But, the reality is I was very happy here”-Carlos Beltran.
Am I wrong to believe in a city of gold, that lies in the deep distance? Hello, friend; welcome home.”
-Tony Banks, Genesis, 1976, “A Trick of the Tail”
Brad was born and raised in the shadow of what eventually became Colt Stadium, and then, in '65, the Astrodome.
Brad's a semi-retired entertainer, having been lead singer (and flautist) of high school rock cover band Brimstone (Houston, early '70s).
He currently sings karaoke nightly, and also performs at nursing homes and private parties.
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