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Voting is ongoing for the 2023 Baseball Hall of Fame class. We already know, thanks to an Era Committee vote, that Fred McGriff will be part of the class -- and he might be alone. Though Scott Rolen has a chance, there are no holdover candidates who seem obvious to reach the 75 percent threshold the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) vote requires. The top newcomer is Carlos Beltrán and, well, there's a cloud that I'm guessing will hold him out, at least for the first vote. 

Let's run down Beltrán's case. He played parts of 20 seasons, mostly with the Royals and Mets, but also getting time with the Yankees, Cardinals, Astros, Rangers and Giants

We'll get to the negative part of Beltrán's resume later on, but the good stuff comes first and there's a lot more of that. 

The bat

Beltrán got a cup of coffee in 1998 but his true rookie year came in 1999 when he played in 156 games and had a prolific offensive season en route to the AL Rookie of the Year award with the Royals. He hit .293 with 27 doubles, seven triples, 22 home runs, 108 RBI, 112 runs and 27 stolen bases. His 194 hits would end up his career high. He was just 22 years old. 

Through the course of a 20-year MLB career, Beltrán would hit at least .300 four times with another three in the .290s. We didn't see it as much in the aforementioned rookie year, but as he got older, Beltrán's great eye would help lead to high on-base percentages. He topped .375 five times. And of course, there's the power. He slugged over .500 10 times. Put the latter two together and he had at least a 125 OPS+ (meaning he was 25 percent better than average) nine times. 

The career slash is .279/.350/.486, good for a 119 OPS+. If we were just looking at his prime, we could grab 2003-11 and Beltrán hit .283/.371/.511 (131 OPS+). 

It wasn't to the level of, say, Chipper Jones, but Beltrán's combination of power with a good eye and contact skills was a calling card. He was truly a complete hitter. He had four full seasons with fewer than 100 strikeouts and at least a .500 slugging percentage. 

As for the counting stats, they are plenty big enough for Cooperstown. 

  • Beltran collected 2,725 hits in his career. That's 62nd in MLB history and ninth among center fielders. 
  • He is 29th all-time in doubles with 565 and that trails only Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb among CFs. 
  • He finished in the top 10 of his league in triples five times. 
  • With 435 homers, Beltrán is 47th all-time and fifth among CFs. 
  • With 1,582 runs and 1,587 RBI in his career, few could match his run production. Beltrán is one of 39 players to top 1,500 in both categories. The players from that list not (yet?) in the Hall of Fame: Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre and Beltrán. 
  • Beltrán ranks 34th in total bases, 25th in extra-base hits, 59th in times on base and 48th in runs created.   

The wheels

The speed that early and even mid-career Beltrán brought with his other offensive skills was a gamechanger. He stole at least 20 bases in a season seven times. He topped 30 four times and 40 twice. He fell just shy of the famed "40-40 club" in 2004 with 38 homers and 42 steals.

With 312 career stolen bases, he ranks 160th all-time. It was the speed combined with the power where he separated himself, though. The only other players to top 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases were A-Rod, Willie Mays, Andre Dawson and Barry Bonds. 

Baseball-Reference has a power-speed combo number (developed by Bill James) that says it is the "harmonic mean of HR and SB." Beltrán ranks ninth all-time in the stat behind Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Mays, A-Rod, Bobby Bonds, Joe Morgan, Dawson and Hank Aaron. 

The defense

Beltrán was also an exceptional defensive player until knee injuries zapped his range and moved him off center fielder later in his career. Still, he scored incredibly well in statistics that capture range, twice leading his league in total zone runs among center fielders and actually sitting seventh all-time among center fielders. There were highlight-reel plays, yes, but it wasn't just those. As we've discussed with others -- such as Andruw Jones -- when the range is so good, it can make plays in the gap look routine. Beltrán did that. 

He also had a plus arm. Eight different seasons in his career, Beltrán hit double digits in outfield assists. His led his league in assists from center field four times. 

He won three Gold Gloves and it could be argued he deserved more. 

We didn't divide up these sections into the "five-tool superstar" categories, but Beltrán was truly a five-tool -- hit, power, speed, glove and arm -- superstar for a large portion of his career. 

Postseason prowess

Though he shoulders far too much blame for striking out to end the 2006 NLCS -- and he was one of the main reasons the Mets were even still in that series -- Beltrán is one of the most prolific playoff hitters in history. For real. In 65 playoff games, he hit .307/.412/.609 with 15 doubles, a triple, 16 home runs, 42 RBI, 45 runs and 11 steals in 11 attempts. He walked 37 times compared to 33 strikeouts. 

He won a ring with the Astros in 2017. 

Career as a whole

Beltrán's top 10 statistically-similar players include six Hall of Famers, including the top three matches (Dawson, Billy Williams and Al Kaline). 

In career WAR, Beltrán at 70.1 is eighth all-time among center fielders, trailing Mays, Cobb, Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Trout and Joe DiMaggio. Several Hall of Famers sit comfortably behind him in Dawson, Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn, Kirby Puckett and several others. JAWS moves Snider above Beltrán, putting him ninth. 

Beltrán is below the average Hall of Famer in both WAR and JAWS but it's incredibly slim (71.6 average Hall of Famer to 70.1 Beltrán in WAR; 58.1 to 57.3 in JAWS), but Mays (156.1 WAR) and Cobb (110.2 WAR) skew the averages a bit and I don't think it's a stretch to say a top-10 player at a position is a Hall of Famer at this point in baseball history. It's not like this is a brand-new sport or anything.   

Some might point to the lack of MVPs as a knock on Beltrán, but there are far too many players already in the Hall of Fame who never won the award for this to be a meaningful dissent. 

There are those who like to do the whole "you know a Hall of Famer when you see one" line of thinking and, well, it's tough to judge how everyone thought of Beltrán during his career. He was a nine-time All-Star and that's a pretty big number. I certainly viewed him as a huge deal for most of his career and it doesn't feel like I was alone. 

In all, I think there was a good enough case to get Beltrán in the 75 percent range in his first try. If he failed to get there this time around, surely it wouldn't have taken long. 

Of course, that was all before ... 

Sign-stealing scandal

We have seen connections to PEDs keep the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and others out of the Hall. A-Rod and Manny Ramirez remain on the current ballot but aren't very likely to get the call anytime soon. 

This is a totally different thing, but Beltrán is heavily connected to the 2017 Astros sign-stealing operation. Many of the voters who haven't cast a ballot for the PED-connected players will point to the rules in the Hall of Fame voting criteria. Specifically, Rule No. 5 ..

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

Beltrán helped come up with the scheme that used a center-field camera in the tunnel just down a few steps from the dugout in order to steal signs from the opposition, an act explicitly forbidden by MLB rules. Some reports have Beltrán as a bit of a ringleader and even someone who strongarmed everyone into falling in line. 

From The Athletic in 2020

During the season, small groups of Astros discussed their misgivings. [Brian] McCann at one point approached Beltrán and asked him to stop, two members of the 2017 team said.

"He disregarded it and steamrolled everybody," one of the team members said. "Where do you go if you're a young, impressionable player with the Astros and this guy says, 'We're doing this'? What do you do?"


Members of the 2017 Astros use various terms to describe Beltrán — El Jefe, the Godfather, the king, the alpha male in the building.  

The fallout from the scandal in 2019 cost Beltrán his job as Mets manager before he coached a game.

Going back to the voting instructions, does this information mean Beltrán's "integrity, sportsmanship" and "character" should be downgraded to the point that it moves his resume below worthiness of the Hall of Fame? 

I think there will be a decent number of people -- voters and fans alike -- who would say that Beltrán was a Hall of Famer before the scandal news emerged, but that now he shouldn't get in.

There will also be a decent number of people who think Beltrán should get into the Hall anyway and probably some misguided few that would say something like "he wasn't a Hall of Famer anyway!"  

This is his first year on the ballot, so we won't know for a bit over another month exactly what percentage of the vote he'll get. We can be absolutely certain, however, that the scandal made Carlos Beltrán's Hall case a lot more complicated than it was when he retired after the 2017 season.