My beloved Boston Red Sox came to terms with Adrian Beltre on a 1 year/$9 million deal, with a player option for 2011 for $5 million. While that news is not surprising (or important enough to break through as one of the top stories on ESPN.com’s front page…), it is significant to Red Sox fans, Yankees fans, Mike Lowell fans, and fans who think that money is wasted in Major League Baseball.
First, let me make the case for why this is a good deal: (Stop laughing. I can do this…) Beltre is only 30 years old, so he should be in his theoretical prime after an already lengthy career which started very young. He is one of the best fielding third basemen in all of baseball. (And, after last year’s injury, hopefully he wears a cup now, so he could be even better!) So his defense adds to an already Gold Glove level infield at every position with Kevin Youkilis at 1st, Dustin Pedroia at 2nd, and Marco Scutaro at SS, when clearly the Sox have put en emphasis on pitching and defense. While he was injured for most of last year, his previous free agent year was a season for the ages as a 3rd baseman. In 2004, he hit .334, with 48 HR and 121 RBI, so if he even comes remotely close to that, he’s a bargain. And if he doesn’t work out, it’s a 1 year deal. (He’ll never take the $5M player option – not as long as Scott Boras is his agent.) And the Sox score another victory over Scott Boras. At the Winter Meetings, Boras wanted a 4-5 year deal for around $14M per year. So anytime you back Boras down, it’s a win. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
[adinserter block=”1″]So those were the rose-colored glasses look at the facts. Here’s the rest: the guy is a .265 hitter, who has 20-25 HR power and can knock in 80-85 runs. He’s been that way throughout his career, save for one year. He’s the right-handed JD Drew! Which is one thing, but when you’re already paying $14 million a year for the REAL JD Drew that looks like $23M for a pair of 6-7 hitters in your line up, who HOPEFULLY will hit .270 with 40 HR and 150 RBI COMBINED! Is that where opposing pitchers give pause in the the Sox line up? Does CC Sabathia take a moment in the 7th inning in late August and say, “Hmmm…I could pitch to Beltre, but if he gets on, then I have JD Drew up after him. Wow. Um…I know what I’ll do. I’ll just pitch to both of them, since they both strike out 100 times a year, while only hitting .265. And who knows? Maybe one of them hurts themselves putting pine tar on the bat.” Here’s your 2010 Red Sox starting line up: Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Youkilis, David Ortiz, Beltre, Drew, Mike Cameron, Scutaro. At best, it’s a lot of tough outs, who can grind out offense with big innings of several singles and doubles. At worst, its 5 guys in a row who will whiff 100 times, without a 30 HR guy anywhere. I guess it’s like the HR budget of a company in December: if you don’t spend all the money, the ownership will give you less next year.
How big an upgrade is Beltre really on the defensive front? The Sox said publicly that they were ready to start the season with Casey Kotchman at 1st and Youkilis at 3rd. Kotchman is a Gold Glove-caliber 1st baseman. It’s why they traded for him in the first place. Same for Youk at 3rd. So…where’s the upgrade? Well, Beltre has better offensive potential right? Well:
2009: 111 games, 449 AB, .265, 8 HR, 44 RBI, $13.4M
Avg from 2006-2009: Beltre: .270, 25 HR, 88 RBI
2009: 126 games, 385 AB, .268, 7 HR, 48 RBI, $2.88M
Avg from 2007-2009: .279, 11 HR, 63 RBI
So they were almost the same in 2009 and Beltre cost about $11M more a year for 10 more HR a year and 25 more RBI. 10 HR and 25 RBI cost $11M a year in MLB now? Yikes!
[adinserter block=”2″]I even read how moving from the spacious Safeco Field to the friendly confines of Fenway Park will surely help Adrian. The .179 career batting average at his new home would argue differently. But it does get better at some of the other AL East parks, like Tropicana Field, where he hits .185 and Yankee Stadium, where he hits .219. See both of those are better than .179! I can’t believe he was still available. How can you not sign this guy?
Not to mention there is still a pretty prominent third baseman on the Red Sox roster in Mike Lowell. They tried to give him away to Texas AND pay $9M of his $12M contract and the trade was voided. So now what? He stays and plays primary pinch hitter? Right, the Sox are an American League team. He plays DH? Nope, they already have one of those…hopefully. Platoon at DH? $24M for 2 guys who can’t really play in the field and that I guarantee I could beat in a foot race to 1st right now, without warming up. Awesome! We are stampeding towards Mike Lowell being named the 3rd baseman on the Red Sox All-Time Designated for Assignment All-Stars, with Julio Lugo playing short and John Smoltz and Brad Penny as your starters. (So I hope Mike Lowell like St Louis…)
Look, of course I will root for this team. One of the best things about not being in Boston is that I don’t have to listen to every radio host and read every writer’s doom and gloom prediction. But it’s hard to get excited about them. They will look to win every 5-4 and 3-2 game on the schedule. A lot of money comes off the books at the end of 2010, so here’s hoping for a capable current season – and a ferocious 2011.
Chris Cause is the co-host for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday – Thursday @ 8pm ET/5pm PT at http://www.wheelhouseradio.wordpress.com
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