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Carlos Beltran: A Solution to the Mariners Problems

Sometimes the idea comes to you just after the fact. Sometimes it’s so obvious that you can’t believe that it didn’t occur to you before you wrote the article. Almost immediately after pressing Publish on yesterday’s article on the Mariners putrid offense, a few friends and I started talking about the issue. That’s when one friend said it. Couldn’t Carlos Beltran help the Mariners in every conceivable way? Why, yes he could. While it’s unclear what the Mets seek for their right fielder, and it’s equally unclear what the Mariners are willing to spend, the two make a perfect match for a trade. Adding Beltran’s bat and glove could be the difference for the M’s in the AL West.

While the Mariners are offensively deficient at a number of positions, they are particularly inept in the outfield. The nine players who have roamed the outfield grass for Seattle have combined for a .266 wOBA and -1.9 WAR. That is 3.6 WAR and .039 points of wOBA behind the next worst team. There are things that won’t change, such as Ichiro playing right field and, most likely, Franklin Gutierrez playing center. They’re established at those positions to different degrees, and there don’t appear to be any viable replacements. But in left field there is a gaping vacancy.

Of all the players thought to be available at the deadline, Beltran is far and away the best. He ranks 24th in the majors with a 3.2 WAR, and 21st with a .379 wOBA. He’s not quite at his peak hitting levels — few players at all have reached that point in this depressed offensive environment — but he’s still hitting like a top tier player. Yet the Mets, while playing well, are 10 games back in the NL East and 7.5 games back of the Wild Card. Their management now is smarter than the team they had in 2004, and so we likely won’t see them trading top prospects for useless pitchers. I would think that would move Beltran for the right package. Considering how many teams could use a power-hitting, good fielding corner outfielder, he could get expensive for a rental.

That puts the onus back on the Mariners. Do they have, and are they willing to surrender, a package of prospects that will entice the Mets and at the same time not completely deplete the farm system? Frankie Piliere ranked the Mariners’ farm system 16th in baseball, while Keith Law had them 10th and Baseball America had them 18th. That puts them solidly in the middle of the pack, and even with the promotions of, and dependences on, Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda, they likely have enough in the stores to appease the Mets. Would they be willing to center a deal around Nick Franklin, whom the Mets could use to replace Jose Reyes? Law thinks that Stephen Pryor (currently getting shellacked at hitter’s paradise High Valley) and Tyler Burgoon (1.69 ERA as a closer in A ball) could move quickly. The Mariners also have the recently promoted Kyle Seager, plus a high-end but raw arm in Tiajuan Walker. That is, they definitely have the pieces to make a deal if they so choose. The question is of how much they’re willing to give up for the sake of the 2011 team at the expense of the 2013 and 2014 teams.

If the Mariners found the right combination of prospects to entice the Mets, they’d dramatically improve their team with one move. Not only would Beltran slide into the vacant left field slot, but he’d keep with the Mariners scheme of quality outfield defense, as to help their already excellent pitching staff. Beltran would also give them an excellent middle of the order bat to complement the streaky, but still very good, Justin Smoak. They’d have to take on salary in order to make the move, and it’s unknown exactly how much they can absorb. But if they’re serious about the 2011 season, it shouldn’t matter greatly. Beltran would turn one of their greatest weaknesses into a strength.

In the next week, maybe two, we’ll hear the Mets and Mariners continue the familiar refrain. They’re open to deals, but are waiting for the right one to come along. For the Mariners, Beltran is almost certainly the right player. They have enough talent on the farm to fairly compensate the Mets and still have enough ammunition for the future. It’s just a matter of the two sides agreeing to the specific prospects and the dollars changing hands. It will be a complicated process, but if the Mariners can swing it they could make a big second half run for the AL West crown.