PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Carlos Beltran could provide just the power bat San Francisco needs to make another deep playoff run.
That’s general manager Brian Sabean’s hope, anyway.
The defending World Series champion Giants completed a trade Thursday to acquire the All-Star outfielder and cash from the New York Mets, upgrading their inconsistent offense. Beltran first had to approve the deal to the NL West leaders, who parted with top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.
“When you’re defending world champions, you do have to try to defend that title any way you can,” Sabean said. “We’re in first place. Hopefully we show we mean business. … Simply put, we’re thrilled with bringing Carlos on board. We really felt the organization needed a shot in the arm and more so our lineup.”
Beltran was in the starting lineup, batting third and playing right field against the major league-leading Phillies on Thursday night.
New York’s prize in return is Wheeler, who is 7-5 with a 3.99 ERA in 16 starts for San Francisco’s high Class-A affiliate in San Jose. The Giants selected the right-hander with the No. 6 pick in the 2009 draft.
“We were looking for big upside,” Mets GM Sandy Alderson said. “We could have gotten a package of three players from a number of clubs, but the overall potential of those players would not have equaled Zack’s potential.”
Beltran left Cincinnati on Wednesday, held out of the lineup by the Mets so he could travel to Philadelphia to join the Giants for their series finale against the Phillies.
To make room for Beltran, the Giants sent utilityman Emmanuel Burriss to Triple-A Fresno. Beltran will wear No. 15, which belonged to manager Bruce Bochy. The skipper switched to No. 16.
The 34-year-old Beltran can become a free agent after the season. He leads the National League with 30 doubles and is batting .289 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs.
Sabean made a handful of risky moves last summer and late in the 2010 season that paid off in a big way. This is another huge splash for baseball’s longest-tenured GM, who endured the craziness of the Barry Bonds era and the home run king’s 2007 pursuit to break Hank Aaron’s record.
Last year, the Giants won their first NL West title since 2003, ended a six-year playoff drought and went on to capture an improbable championship _ the franchise’s first since moving West in 1958.
“We’re at an interesting place in time. We’re trying to get back to the playoffs by winning the division, and much like last year taking our chances,” Sabean said. “It’s timely. Our fans deserve this as well as the team.”
San Francisco lost reigning NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey for the season when the catcher tore three ligaments in his ankle and fractured a bone in his lower left leg in a home-plate collision with Florida’s Scott Cousins on May 25.
It was a devastating blow.
“Once Buster went down, I thought we were dead in the water to have the chance to replace him,” Sabean said. “Carlos has the chance to do that.”
Beltran was fully aware he would likely be trade bait in the final year of a $119 million deal he signed with the Mets before the 2005 season. He was plagued by knee injuries the past two seasons, but has been healthy this year and is enjoying a strong comeback season.
Once the teams agreed to terms, Beltran had 24 hours to decide whether to waive his no-trade clause. Shortly before New York’s 8-2 win at Cincinnati on Wednesday night, he arrived in the clubhouse and told his teammates he was on his way to Philadelphia to join the Giants.
While parting with Wheeler was a tough call, Sabean and his staff weighed dealing a pitcher or a top position player. Wheeler wasn’t going to be in the mix at the major league level for a while.
Beltran will be an instant upgrade to a sagging offense. The Giants were batting .241 with 66 homers and 373 runs, all numbers that ranked toward the bottom of the NL.
No player on the San Francisco roster had more than nine homers. Aubrey Huff was leading the team with 47 RBIs.
“Carlos is the player that we coveted all along,” Sabean said. “As we knew what the price of doing business was there, it became apparent no matter where we turned we were going to take a hit on our prospect list.”
That worked out for New York, which has overcome some key injuries to remain around .500 for weeks. But the Mets, who began the day 7 1/2 games out in the NL wild-card race, are looking toward the future.
“We also felt that for the long-term benefit of the organization that we needed to do something,” Alderson said.
“In baseball, your currency is your young player development system,” he added. “It’s not often a team has access to a player who was drafted No. 5, 6, 7. … We’re very fortunate to be able to add him to our system.”
It marks the second major trade this month for the financially troubled Mets, who dealt closer Francisco Rodriguez to Milwaukee after the All-Star game.
Alderson acknowledged that the Mets saved about $5 million by making the two deals, but credited ownership for being more committed to adding young talent than saving money as the team fielded offers.
“Zack was the guy that we focused on,” Alderson said. “This is the kind of deal that we had hoped to be able to make at the outset, and when it materialized we didn’t have any problem pulling the trigger.”
However, Alderson said the club plans to keep star shortstop Jose Reyes for the rest of the season and then engage in contract discussions in the fall. Reyes also can become a free agent after the season.
In fact, Alderson said he doesn’t expect to make any more significant trades before Sunday’s non-waiver deadline unless “something extraordinary” becomes available. He wants to see what the remaining Mets can do the rest of the way.
“I’d be very reluctant to make it any tougher on them,” he said.
Alderson said more than a half-dozen teams expressed interest in Beltran. During the last 10 days or so, the Mets had their pro scouts all over the country looking at prospects who could be involved in a deal.
The GM said he hadn’t talked to Wheeler yet, but expects he will be sent to Class-A Port St. Lucie in the Florida State League “relatively soon.” Alderson said it’s more likely Wheeler would arrive in the majors in 2013 than 2012, but he doesn’t want to put the pressure of a timetable on him.
“I think we’ll have plenty of time to let Zack develop at his own pace,” Alderson said.
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