A Little Older and Wiser, Carlos Beltran Returns to the Houston Astros

Carlos Beltran is back with the Houston Astros. And while it’s been a long, long time since he first spent time with the team, Beltran is ready and eager to don Houston colors and lead the Astros to the playoffs.

“It wasn't difficult for me to make the decision to come here,” Beltran told reporters in Houston on Monday. “I have so many good memories of the three months that I spent in Houston (in 2004). And when I look at the team, for me, what really does it is the team.The opportunity of winning, the opportunity of hopefully you get to the playoffs and win a championship, that's what it's all about. When I look at the lineup, the whole team, I really like our chances.”

The Astros aren’t asking that Beltran be the same player in the 2017 season that he was in 2004. But they’ll be very happy if he’s close to the same player that he was last season in splitting time between the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers. Beltran played in 151 games with a .295/.337/.513 slash line while scoring 73 runs on 163 hits with 29 homers and 93 RBI. And while Beltran turns 40 shortly after the season begins, the services of the borderline Hall-of-Fame baseball player were sought by numerous teams, though Beltran, who signed a one-year deal for $16 million, claims the Astros were the most aggressive.

Beltran’s career numbers are sterling, with 421 homers while scoring 1,522 runs on 2,617 hits. He’s accumulated 536 doubles, 312 triples and 1,051 walks with a .325/.451/.776 slash. His career WAR is 70.4. Those are the numbers that have made him one of the best switch hitters in the history of baseball. He was also a Rookie of the Year, a nine-time All-Star, and he’s won three gold gloves for his defensive play in the outfield.

But most Astros fans will remember him for two things, the first being his magical run in the 2004 playoffs when he hit eight homers in 12 games while scoring 21 runs and knocking in 18. The second is his acrimonious departure from the Astros after he signed a free agent contract with the New York Mets. For years most fans have blamed Beltran for the departure, many accusing him of using the Astros to get a better deal with the Mets.

It came out during last season that Beltran had wanted to sign with the Astros, but that Drayton McLane refused to give him a no-trade contract. Beltran reiterated this to the Houston media on Monday, and he claimed not to have been bothered by the years of booing that he has received.

“I don't have anything against the Houston fans,” he said. “Honestly, I have a lot of appreciation. I always said that when you get booed in a city or in a ballpark, it's because you have done something good in the game of baseball.”

The Astros plan for Beltran to serve primarily as the designated hitter. That was his main function with the Yankees and the Rangers last season. But Beltran, who no longer has the speed and range that he once did when roaming the Minute Maid Park centerfield in 2004, should also put in some time in left field for the Astros as the season progresses. And with the injury histories of George Springer and new free agent signee Josh Reddick, having Beltran around is also a good thing.

The Astros are also hoping that Beltran will serve in a mentor role for the young team. And this is an opportunity that Beltran says he welcomes.

“I remember I was a young pup (with the Astros in 2004) and I got the opportunity to be around Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Roy Oswalt…Now it's my turn to be the veteran guy and hopefully help guys like Carlos Correa, (Jose) Altuve, Alex Bregman and so and so,” he said. “I'm very excited. As a player, I always have a lot of pride in helping younger guys, because I believe that's important. I have lived a lot of things in baseball, so now it's time for me to share those experiences with the younger guys and hopefully impact them in a positive way."

So Beltran might be a tad older than he was in 2004. But his return is welcome, and here’s hoping he’s finally greeted with cheers and applause from the Astros faithful when he takes his first at-bat in April.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal