The Cleveland Indians are talking to every free-agent hitter who is not named Prince Fielder.
Yes, that includes Carlos Beltran.
The Indians became a legitimate player in the Beltran sweepstakes on Wednesday, according to major-league sources.
The Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays also are in the mix for Beltran, sources say. But the fit with the Indians might be better than you think.
Beltran, who will be 35 next April 24, could play left field for the Indians and serve as a part-time DH. Manager Manny Acta would need to be creative in how he distributed playing time, just as the front office would need to be creative in how it structured Beltran’s contract.
The Indians, at first glance, do not appear to be a team capable of meeting Beltran’s expected price – a two- or three-year deal in the $12 million to $13 million range.
Yet, outside of DH Travis Hafner, who will earn $13 million next season, the Indians’ commitments are relatively low – $34.2 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, plus between $20 million and $25 million in likely arbitration salaries.
Beltran, then, could fit with a back-loaded contract.
He would be a tight squeeze this season in an Indians payroll expected to be between $60 million to $70 million. But the team will gain significant payroll flexibility in 2013, when the contracts of Hafner, center fielder Grady Sizemore and right-hander Derek Lowe expire.
Beltran could get a far greater number of at-bats at DH once Hafner was gone. But Acta wouldn’t have too much difficulty creating playing time for Beltran next season, even though the Indians’ outfield appears set with Michael Brantley in left, Grady Sizemore in center and Shin-Soo Choo in right.
For starters – and most important - Beltran would be a significant offensive upgrade over Brantley. Beltran, a switch-hitter, had a 152 OPS-plus last season. Brantley, a left-handed hitter, was at 96, and 100 is defined as the league average.
Also keep in mind:
• Hafner and each of the three starting outfielders all played fewer than 115 games last season due to injuries.
• The Indians are looking to upgrade at first base, and Brantley could fit into that equation – he has played first in the minors, and could serve in a left-right platoon with Matt LaPorta or some other option.
Put it all together, and Beltran to the Indians suddenly doesn’t sound like such an outrageous idea.
— Ken Rosenthal