Carlos Beltran announced his retirement on Monday, and that gives me a good excuse to talk about his time with the Giants. The Mets traded Beltran to the Giants on July 28, 2011, at a point when the Giants, despite a historically terrible offense, had a record of 60-44 and were up by three games on the Diamondbacks in the NL West. He came over, immediately hit badly, the Giants had a terrible August (even worse than the August of the 2017 Giants, if you can believe that), and they fell out of the race while Zack Wheeler, the prospect traded to the Mets, had multiple increasingly impressive seasons that put him on prospect lists and made Giants fans bitter.
For this, Giants fans booed Carlos Beltran for years. And they shouldn’t have.
Let’s start with the chronologically first complaint. Carlos Beltran did have 11 very poor games immediately after he was traded and the Giants played poorly in those games. Here is his game log from that period; you, the savvy baseball fan, can notice that these numbers are bad. The Giants went 3-8 in that period; you, the savvy baseball fan, can notice that that record is bad.
That wasn’t Beltran’s fault. Well, it wasn’t entirely his fault; he did hit poorly, which is the opposite of what a hitter wants to do, but how much can one guy be expected to do when his team is starting catchers, second basemen, and center fielders who can’t hit, as well as the desiccated husks of Orlando Cabrera and Aubrey Huff? And more importantly, are we really judging him based on a bad week and a half? That’s just absolutely nutty.
So, on August 7, after those 11 bad games, Beltran injured his wrist on a check swing against the Phillies — not something you should be mad at him for — and then, after the team took way too long to put him on the DL — not something you should be mad at him for — he went on the DL on August 16. When Beltran got injured, the team was up half a game on the Diamondbacks, and when he was activated from the DL on August 23, the Giants were trailing Arizona by two games.
And then Carlos Beltran started hitting. He didn’t start the day he was activated from the DL, but he started the next five games, and he got multiple hits in four of them. In that time, the team dropped from two games back to four games back. Then in September, he had, by raw OPS, the second best month of his career. That September, Beltran hit .378/.434/.700. He and Pablo Sandoval carried the offense to previously unseen heights of league averageness, and if you remember 2011, you’ll know just how big of an upgrade that was.
It didn’t help, of course. The Giants were six games back at the beginning of the month and eight games back at the end, and that was it for the 2011 Giants. Carlos Beltran, all in all, ended up hitting .323/.369/.551 as a Giant, which translated to an OPS+ of 159. He was a phenomenally productive hitter who, even after having gotten off to a poor start, had the best offensive stretch of his Hall of Fame career. It’s hard to complain about that.
And yet Giants fans complain about that. Some of it is the cost for the trade — while Zack Wheeler’s ended up struggling with injuries with the Mets, he also used to be a big time pitching prospect, and so even though Wheeler’s star has dimmed considerably, there’s a sense that the Giants gave away something good for nothing. Some of it is the fact that Beltran didn’t singlehandedly fix the team, which is a silly expectation to have of any player, especially one who’s only around for two months. Some of it is that he got hurt, which is, as I said before, a dumb thing to blame a player for. Some of it is that he didn’t re-sign with the Giants, which is especially silly, because, well:
"They never called,'' said Beltran, who signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Carlos Beltran trade didn’t work out, but it wasn’t because of any failing of Beltran’s, and it didn’t really cause any long term damage (in fact, after Beltran left, the Giants won two thirds of the next three World Series). This is not a situation like the Mike Leake trade or the Casey McGehee trade where, boy, not only was that guy bad but the Giants sure could have used one of the guys they traded for him, ha ha, oh darn. Carlos Beltran was an extremely good baseball player for the Giants. He did what he was supposed to, even as the rest of the team didn’t.
So think kindly of Carlos Beltran’s time with the Giants. For a month, he made a wretched, unwatchable offense — significantly worse than the 2017 Giants offense, which is saying something — decent. That is an almost superhuman feat, and something to be lauded. Carlos Beltran never should have been booed in San Francisco after he left, and you shouldn’t think poorly of his time here. He had a very good half season here as part of a great career. That’s something to be celebrated, not maligned.
He led the 2011 Giants in triples, you know.