How do you replace a franchise player? Picking up a veteran outfielder who wards off Father Time for two more years is a good start. Carlos Beltran was able to put together a couple of big seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, but is eligible to become a free agent after his team's season ends within the next two days.
Who is he?
In short, Beltran is the premier veteran outfielder available on the free agent market this offseason. He was hampered by injuries earlier in his career, but the St. Louis Cardinals signed him to a two-year deal after letting Albert Pujols walk after their 2011 championship run. Beltran exploded out of the gate in 2012 and ended up providing 6.2 wins above replacement over the past two seasons.
Why should we care?
Beltran has hardly missed a beat as he transitions into his late 30s. He hit .282/.343/.493 with 56 home runs in his two years in St. Louis. His .357 wOBA, 129 wRC+, and .211 ISO during that span are excellent offensive numbers for a player in his late 20s, let alone a guy that was 36 years old in 2013. Additionally, there aren't many signs (if any) that Beltran is slowing down. He has always been a good contact hitter, striking out in just under 16% of his career plate appearances with a line drive rate just shy of 20%. Hitting for contact is a tool that generally ages well -- see: Martinez, Victor -- meaning Beltran's production shouldn't fall off at the drop of a hat.
Why should we stay away?
I could say money, but it really all boils down to age. Beltran will turn 37 next April and having two aging corner outfielders is a risky proposition. He hasn't shown any signs of dropping off yet offensively, but his defense in right field has been well below average in two of the past three seasons. His health is also a concern as he ages. He has played in 296 regular season games over the past two years, but missed significant time due to injury in both 2009 and 2010. The strain he would put on the bench isn't much of a concern -- Andy Dirks would be a pretty good fourth outfielder -- but keeping him healthy all season long is easier said than done.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The odds of this one happening are much better than either of the past two posts I've written. Beltran will earn a contract in the mold of Torii Hunter or Victor Martinez and won't strain the Tigers' payroll long term. However, it seems like the Tigers are committed to giving Nick Castellanos every chance to win an outfield job, so I would be surprised if they bring another outfielder into the fold until after Torii Hunter's contract expires. If they decide to go the other way, Beltran seems like the right man for the job.