10/24/2003 1:03 PM ET
Beltran takes center stage for KC
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
Who's on first for Royals?
Relaford gets second chance
Berroa finds a home at shortstop
Randa's the man at third
Ibanez a proven commodity in left
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals want to take another step up the ladder of success in 2004, and it appears that five-tool center fielder Carlos Beltran will be around to give his teammates a significant push.
Carlos Beltran / CF
That's a comforting thought for Kansas City fans, who saw Beltran post his usual strong numbers in numerous categories last year despite getting a late start because of an oblique strain. Beltran became just the sixth player in Major League history (post-1900) to record a third season with at least 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 30 steals. Beltran finished at .307 with 102 runs, 100 RBIs and 41 steals.
"It was really a fun and exciting year," said Beltran. "The best thing was that we were a winning team, and we were competing for a division title until the last week. As a player, that's what you want to experience. I've been waiting for that here in Kansas City, and it finally happened.
"I wish we could have finished the job and made the playoffs, but we came a long way in one year, and our guys have a lot to be proud of. Now we just have to keep it going, and maybe next year will be our year."
Beltran is now just one year away from exploring his value on the open market, but the Royals don't think any club would meet the demand that Kansas City is requiring to pull the trigger on a trade. In that scenario a club would be giving up a lot of value for a player who might only be with that team for one year.
Therefore the Royals think it would be more prudent to retain Beltran in 2004 through the arbitration process and then take two first-round draft picks as their compensation if Beltran leaves in the next off-season through free agency.
Beltran made $6 million in 2003 and could be in the $8.5 million to $9.5 million range in his final year of arbitration. The Royals think they could wedge such a salary into their projected $45 million payroll without severely compromising their ability to sign other key players.
Having Beltran's talent for one more year would be crucial if the Royals are going to make a run at the American League Central title. It would also enable center fielder-in-waiting David DeJesus to get another year of seasoning at Triple-A Omaha. DeJesus might then be much better prepared to take over as Beltran's successor in 2005.
Manager Tony Pena often marveled last year at how many ways Beltran can change a game. Beltran can do it with his baserunning, his power, his natural hitting stroke, a great catch or a great throw.
"There's no question Carlos is one of the best players in baseball," he said.
The defining image of Beltran in 2003 came during a two-game span July 19-20. First he made a circus catch above the center-field wall to preserve a Kansas City victory over Seattle. The next day he hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning to lift the Royals to a 7-5 win.
One more year of Beltran means one more year of high-quality production in center field. As long as Beltran is stationed in center, the Royals have no worries there.