Carlos Beltran was widely viewed as one of the top center fielders in the game coming into the 2004 season, and Beltran had recently agreed to a 1 year, $9M contract for the season. Beltran was going to be a free agent after the season, and was widely expected to test the free agent market. The Royals were coming off of an 83-79 record in 2003, but weren't necessarily expected to build on that performance in 2004. The team got off to a slow start, falling 11.5 games out of the race by the end of May. Once this happened, it became pretty clear that the Royals were looking to get a solid return for the free-agent to be.
In Houston, the Astros entered June with a 27-23 record, but just 2.5 games out of the NL Central race. The team had been running a combination of Orlando Palmeiro and Jason Lane in one of their corner outfield spots, but had not been getting a lot of production from either of them. The team was starting to age overall, with Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio in the twilight of their careers, and it appeared that the team's window for a championship might be starting to close.
In Oakland, the A's were in the AL West race on June 1st, just 3.5 games back. However, they had been using offseason acquisition Arthur Rhodes as their closer. Rhodes had pitched reasonably well, but right before the start of June had blown back to back save opportunities, taking the loss in both.
The Moving Pieces
On June 24, 2004, the Astros acquired Beltran. They sent RP Octavio Dotel to the Athletics and prospect C John Buck to the Royals. The Athletics also sent 3B Mark Teahen and P Mike Wood to the Royals.
Read more about how it played out after the jump...
What Happened That Year
The Astros moved Craig Biggio to left field and plugged Beltran in as the everyday center fielder. The team got everything they could have hoped for, and more for the rest of the season. Beltran had what would be considered a pretty good FULL season in just 90 games in Houston, clubbing 23 HR and stealing 28 bases. Despite firing manager Jimy Williams 16 games after the acquisition, the team went on a tear under new manager Phil Garner, going 52-26 with Beltran and winning the NL Wild Card.
The team faced the Braves in the first round of the playoffs in 2004, and Beltran led the way. He hit .455/.500/1.091 in the 5 games, clubbing 4 home runs, driving in 9 and scoring 9 en route to the 3-2 series victory. They weren't able to get past the Cardinals in 7 games in the NLCS, but not due to the performance of Beltran. Beltran had hit .417/.563/.958 with 4 more home runs and 12 runs scored in the series.
In Oakland, Dotel finished the 2004 season as the closer and notched 22 of 28 saves. He finished with a 6-2 record, but the A's still finished 1 game out of the division title in the AL West with a 91-71 record. The A's had entered the final weekend of the season in a tie with the Angels, and hosting 3 games against the team in the final series. Unfortunately, Mark Mulder was blown out in the first game in a 10-0 loss, and the team lost a heartbreaking 5-4 game on Saturday for the Angels to clinch the division.
In Kansas City, the rebuilding continued on with the new players acquired for Beltran. Mike Wood was plugged into the starting rotation immediately, making his first start as a Royal on June 29th. He threw a total of 100 IP that season, posting a 5.94 ERA and a 3-8 record. John Buck was the first to make his debut with the Royals, starting the night after the trade and going 0 for 3 with a strikeout. He would remain the starting catcher for the rest of the season, hitting .235 but showing some nice pop in his bat (12 HR, 9 doubles). He also threw out 32% of would be base stealers that season. Mark Teahen was sent to the Royals' AAA affiliate in Omaha, where he hit .280 with 8 homers and 31 RBI in 66 games.
For the Royals, the season ended pretty much like it started. The team finished with a 58-104 record, which ended up being the second worst record in the Majors that season.
After The Season
Beltran did end up testing the free agent market, and found it to be quite to his liking. He signed a 7 year, $119 million contract with the New York Mets after the season. The Astros received 2 draft picks as compensation for Beltran.
The Net Moves
Level 1 - Astros
- Beltran had one of the best half-seasons in recent memory, as he posted a slash line of .258/.368/.559 with 23 HR, 53 RBI, and 28 SB in 90 games for the Astros. For his time in Houston, he posted a 3.5 WAR, or an equivalent of 6.3 WAR over a full season.
- He continued that performance through the playoffs, hitting 8 HR in 12 games and posting an OPS over 1.000 for the playoffs. The Astros made it to the NLCS, with Beltran carrying a lot of the offensive load, but lost in 7 to the Cardinals. Beltran left via free agency after the 2004 season, signing a 7 year, $119 M contract with the New York Mets. The Astros received two compensation draft picks from the Mets, a sandwich round pick and a 3rd round pick.
Level 1 - Athletics
- Dotel was with the club through 2005, but lost his closer job during the season to eventual 2005 AL Rookie of the Year Huston Street. He finished his tenure in Oakland with a 6-6 record and 29 for 39 in save opportunities. Dotel was not resigned after the season, and the Athletics received no compensation for him leaving.
Level 1 - Royals
- Mark Teahen spent 4 seasons with the Royals, but unfortunately the performance overall was not that great. He posted a negative WAR over 676 games, hitting .269/.331/.419 with 59 HR and 42 SB during his time there. He was traded to the White Sox on 11/6/2009 for 3B Josh Fields and 2B Chris Getz.
- Mike Wood spent 2004-2006 with the Royals, posting a 1.0 WAR with an 11-19 record and a 5.28 ERA. He was selected off of waivers by the Ragners on 10/11/2006, earning the Royals no compensation.
- John Buck had probably the best time of any of the players that the Royals received, posting a 3.5 WAR from 2004-2009. He his .235/.298/.407 with 70 HR and 259 RBI while being the starting catcher for most of the time. He was granted free agency on 12/12/2009, after being non-tendered by the Royals.
Level 2 - Astros
- The Astros used their two draft picks to select OF Eli Iorg (U-Tenn) and SS Tommy Manzella (Tulane U).
- Eli Iorg spent 5 seasons in the minors for the Astros, making it as high as AAA in his final season (2009). Probably his best season as a professional was 2006, when he spent the year in the Sally League as a 23 year old. That year, he hit .256/.313/.437 with 15 home runs, 85 RBI, and 42 stolen bases. Iorg was released by the organization in July 2009.
- Tommy Manzella has been with the organization for 6 seasons, and is currently playing in Oklahoma City (AAA-Astros). He has seen time in the Majors, but has not played very well. He has posted a -1.7 WAR (BBRef) to this point in his career, with a .224/.266/.262 career slash line. There's probably not a lot of hope at this point that Manzella will turn into an everyday contributor.
Level 2 - Royals
- Josh Fields was in the Royals organization only for 2010, posting a negative WAR in 13 games. He did hit 3 home runs and post a .306 batting average in those games, but never really got a chance to play full-time. He was non-tendered after the 2010 season, and drew no compensation for the Royals.
- Chris Getz is currently with the Royals, and has posted 0.3 WAR so far. In just over a season's worth of games, he has posted a .246/.309/.279 line with 33 stolen bases. He has filled in at 2B and 3B primarily for the team, but doesn't appear to be in the long-term plans for the team.
It is a bit unusual to see, but this still looks like a trade that worked out best for the team getting the free-agent-to-be.
- The Astros almost certainly would not have made the playoffs or the run they did in those playoffs without Beltran's bat in their lineup. They very nearly made the World Series, and I imagine that they would do this trade over every single time. The prospect they gave up in Buck was a top prospect in the past, but there were concerns whether or not he would pan out as a Major League backstop. The reliever was an excellent one, but a player who could just as easily have a brutal outing as an amazingly good one.
- The Athletics received what they needed in a high-end reliever/closer type, and gave up a pair of excess prospects based on their roster at the time. Teahen was a 3B primarily, and the A's had recently given incumbent 3B Eric Chavez the richest contract extension in the team's history.
- The Royals really ended up with the short end of the stick overall. Unfortunately, Teahen and Wood didn't really amount to much overall for the team, but Buck was a very nice player for the team for an number of seasons. The part that concerns me is that they did not receive much in return for these players when they left.
The thing that would be interesting to see now is what other offers might have been out there for Beltran at the time. I also have to remind myself that the general manager has changed for the Royals since then as well. Hindsight is of course 20-20, but it really doesn't look like it was enough for the Royals even then.