FanPost

The Curious Case of Adrian Beltre

Is a Free Agent Ever a Bargain?

 

When was the last time that a solid player signed a contract where the perception was the signing team received a great deal?  I am not talking about a 1-year Bobby Abreu 2008 deal or the Minnesota Twins' 1-year deal with Jim Thome last year.  Both were coming off years where the thought on them was that they might be just about done being productive.  Abreu later signed a multi-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels when he showed that wasn't yet the case and Thome is still unsigned for 2011.

 

That leads me to Adrian Beltre.  Did the Texas Rangers get a good deal in the 6 years, $96M that they committed to Beltre?  He will be 32 in the first year of this contract so he has reached the preverbal plateau of improvement.  That being said, if Adrian Beltre is going to be the Adrian Beltre that we have seen him become, is he worth the money that the Rangers gave him?

 

The Beginning

 

In 1998, Adrian was a promising 19 year old for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  At 20, he took over a full time role and had a great first full season, stealing 18 bases hitting 15 HR's and getting on base at a .352 clip.  Not too bad for a kid his age.  Also he was ranked 5th in MLB in Range Factor; A stat that he would continue to dominate over the course of his career.  From 1999-2010 he has been in the top 5 in Range Factor 9 out of 12 years. 

 

In 2000, the Dodgers started winning and Beltre was a key component of this.  He had a then career high in HR's, RBI's, BA, OBP, Slug & OPS.  He also was #1 in MLB in Range Factor.  Beltre had the makings of becoming one of the absolute great third basemen in baseball.

 

What Happened Adrian?

 

Then something happened.  The Dodgers continued to win but Beltre really struggled for the next 3 years.  From 2001 to 2003 his ability to steal bases disappeared, his on-base percentage plummeted as did his OPS.  By the end of the 2003 season his OPS was among the worst in baseball at his position.  During this time Adrian would never have an OBP above .310 and his OPS would never end up higher than .730.

 

People even questioned the effort defensively as his RF dipped into the middle of the pack.  The worst of this was in 2002 when he finished 22nd among 3B in Range Factor.  Was this the end of the road for Mr. Beltre?

 

Beltre Returns!

 

2004 was truly a magical year for Adrian Beltre.  The Dodgers were winning games by the bundles.  By the end of the year the Dodgers would finish with 92 wins, win the Western Division by 2 games over the Giants and face off in the playoffs against the best team in the National League; The Saint Louis Cardinals.  The Cardinals won 105 games that year and would go on to beat the Dodgers in 4 games but eventually get swept by the Red Sox in 2004 World Series.

 

During the 2004 season though, Adrian was absolutely unbelievable.  He ended up leading the National League in HR's and had an OPS over 1.000.  In addition to this the defense returned as well.  He ranked third in MLB in Range Factor.

 

All of the struggles the previous 3 years were forgotten.  Adrian was back and conveniently for him, he was a free agent.  Offers poured in; The Dodgers wanted to keep him, the Angels wanted him, the Mariners wanted him as did the Cubs, White Sox, Phillies & Giants.  Of course, the Boras represented player took the highest offer on the table; The Seattle Mariners.  He signed a 5 year deal with the Mariners and the drop off was felt immediately.

 

Beltre Returns?

 

Adrian came to Mariners training camp in 2005 as the big man on campus;  Seattle's shiniest new toy.  Season ticket sales soared.  Beautiful Safeco field was packed on a daily basis as the Mariners finished 4th in baseball in attendance.  Expectations were high in Seattle.  With a pitching rotation of Ryan Franklin, Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro, Gil Meche and eventually, 19 year old Felix Hernandez. Also, a line-up that included Ichiro, Brett Boone,  Randy Winn, Raul Ibanez, Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre how could you lose? .  This was a team to be reckoned with in 2005!

 

Unfortunately, the pitching staff's ERA was pushing 5.00, Adrian Beltre had arguably the worst year of his career, and the Mariners finished last in the AL West with only 69 wins.  Offensively, Beltre had the lowest OBP of his full-time career and his defense slipped to the 11th best RF at 3B in MLB.

 

The Struggles Continue

 

From 2006-2008 Adrian continued to labor at the plate although the effort was not lost on the field.  For these 3 years he was in the top 5 in RF.  The struggles at the plate, however, were glaring.  During this time the Mariners had a horrible time winning games, just as much as Beltre did at the plate.  In the 2007 season, however, Beltre was having a bit of a resurgence at the plate.  He was hitting .285 and his OBP was .331 as of September 1st.  Seattle was in a pennant race with the Angeles in the A.L. West and they were also only 1 game back of the Yankees for the Wild Card.  Adrian would go into a funk to forget that September.  He would hit .240/.270/.421 during this month and the Mariners would lose out to both the Angeles and the Yankees by 6 games.

 

Then There Was 2008 (& '09)

 

For Adrian and the Mariners, 2008 was a year to forget.  While his defensive abilities continued to score high marks, his production at the plate declined.  After posting only his 3rd year with an OPS of over .800 the year before, 2008 saw that stat dip again near the league average.  The Mariners would lose 101 games and Adrian was constantly rumored in trades.  Of course the biggest obstacle in getting rid of the then enigmatic Beltre was the giant contact that was hanging over Adrian's head.  There was interest in obtaining his services, including our own Minnesota Twins, but the asking price and the contract status were too much for anyone to take on.

 

No one wanted Adrian Beltre.  No one was willing to pay him his contract price & lose prospects and the Mariners desperately wanted to get rid of him.  Adrian would respond to this lack of love by posting the worst season in his career.  His OPS in 2009 would finish just ahead of Geoff Blumm and our own Nick Punto.  His fielding, however, was stellar.  He would finish 2009 as the #2 ranked third basemen in RF.  Despite this, the Mariners would finish above .500 but decided that they would go in a different direction.  The Mariners would not offer Beltre a contract after the 2009 season.

 

One Year Changes Everything (Again... )

 

The Boston Red Sox signed Adrian to an incentive laden contract worth about $9M.  With incentives, of which he hit all of them, it would be $10M.  As it turned out, this was one of the great free agent contract bargains in the 2010 off-season.  He remained one of the premier defenders at 3B (Ranking #3 in RF) and re-established himself as one of the premier offensive 3B in the league as well.  His OPS would climb over 200 points from the previous season including an on-base percentage jump of over 60 points.  During an injury riddled season for the Red Sox he was the one constant that drove them to an 89 win year.

 

Success Rewarded

 

All is right in the world again.  Who says you can't go back?  Adrian Beltre did.  For him it is 2005 all over again and he can do one of two things; He can either continue the success from 2009 and become truly one of the great 3B of his time or he can revert to the enigma of his non 2004 & 2010 years.  If he does the latter he will become the example of the "contract year killer".  A player that only produces when his contract is up at the end of the year.  For the Texas Rangers to succeed over the next 6 years they will need Adrian to be the center-piece of that team.  Josh Hamilton is the Rangers most dynamic player but if Adrian is not hitting, "Hammer" will have no real protection.  Having a player like Hamilton in the line-up with no one around him will mean that no one will pitch to him in any meaningful at bat.  Josh's OBP will rise with all the walks but his impact on the teams win/loss record will be drastically reduced.  If Adrian hits like he has shown he can, the A.L. West will be dominated by the Rangers, with their #3 & #4 spots in their line-up, for the bulk of this decade.  If he doesn't, Texas will understand the pain of their fellow AL West rival Seattle.  The Rangers, just like the Mariners before them, are paying for hope.  Let's hope, for the Rangers sake, that this time is different.

 

Beltre

W

L

Win%

OBP

OPS

ops +/-

Def Rnk

1998

83

79

51%

0.278

0.648

-

-

1999

77

85

48%

0.352

0.780

0.132

5

2000

86

76

53%

0.360

0.835

0.055

1

2001

86

76

53%

0.310

0.720

-0.115

-

2002

92

70

57%

0.303

0.729

0.009

-

2003

85

77

52%

0.290

0.714

-0.015

5

2004

93

69

57%

0.388

1.017

0.303

3

2005

69

93

43%

0.303

0.716

-0.301

-

2006

78

84

48%

0.328

0.792

0.076

4

2007

88

74

54%

0.319

0.802

0.010

2

2008

61

101

38%

0.327

0.784

-0.018

5

2009

85

77

52%

0.304

0.683

-0.101

2

2010

89

73

55%

0.365

0.919

0.236

3

Total

1072

1034

51%

0.328

0.791

Active

5

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