Carlos Beltran Giants Trade to Swing National League Pennant Race?

The San Francisco Giants’ acquisition of Carlos Beltran Wednesday sent a clear message to the rest of baseball’s contenders. While the Red Sox, Phillies and Yankees are the most talked about favorites, the Giants are still the defending champions. With Beltran now on board, San Francisco trusts it has the final missing piece to pull off a repeat. However, is putting that kind of trust on a 34-year-old who hasn’t been in the playoffs in five years well advised?

The former Mets right-fielder was unquestionably the biggest prize of trade deadline week, especially since every major contender was after him. Teams like the Phillies, Braves, Rangers and Red Sox were interested due to Beltran’s track record, his resurgent 2011 season and if only to make sure the other contenders didn’t get him.

However, San Francisco finally shifted the National League pecking order after Beltran accepted the trade Wednesday night, according to ESPN. This stands to impact Philadelphia and Atlanta the most; in fact, the Phillies will get to see the consequences firsthand Thursday. Not only did they fail to get Beltran, they now have to face him in his first game as a Giant.

Since the Giants defeated the Phillies in last year’s NLCS without a big bat, their chances of doing it again with one probably look better. Even before playing a game with San Francisco, he is already the team’s biggest home run hitter and RBI man by a wide margin.

Of course, counting on him to be the missing piece may simplify things. Technically, the Giants really don’t have a missing piece, since they won without a slugger last season and lead the NL West this year even without Buster Posey. As their 2-1 victory over the Phillies Wednesday proved, all they need is their ace pitching and bullpen to step up, and get hits when needed, to beat the best.

No matter what San Francisco’s new hitter does, it won’t mean much if Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Brian Wilson aren’t at their October best. In any case, their biggest rivals for the pennant, the Phillies and Braves, are already familiar with Beltran after facing him as a Met for years.

The biggest impact might be what the other contenders do as a result. For the Phillies, their quest for a right-handed bat will probably lead them to the Astros’ Hunter Pence. Yet Houston’s price could be too big, whether it involves prospects from a depleted farm system or major leaguers like Dominic Brown or Vance Worley.

Getting Beltran days before the trade deadline may not make the Giants a repeat favorite by itself. Yet if their rivals panic in trying to match it, that could do just as much to swing the pennant race as well. Either way, the short-term impact will be felt both on and off the field this week.

Sources

ESPN- “Carlos Beltran OKs trade to Giants”

Yahoo! Sports- “Cain outduels Hamels as Giants top Phillies 2-1”