16 September 2010
Peter Abraham wrote a piece on Extra Bases that got me thinking:
Should the Red Sox offer Adrian Beltre a contract this offseason?
The quick answer is: Hell yes! But's negotiating a new deal for Beltre will be more complicated than that.
There's no denying that Beltre has surpassed everyone's expectations here in Boston. After four forgetful years as a Mariner, Beltre came here on a mission to prove that 2004 was not a fluke. He won't finish with 40+ home runs, but he has been more productive than any of us would have guessed.
Beltre currently leads the Sox with 97 RBI and 42 doubles, and trails David Ortiz (30) for the team lead in ding dongs with 28 after hitting a solo shot last night. But the real surprise is his team-best .328 batting average. Beltre was a career .267 before the 2010 season, and has hovered around the .260 mark his entire career... except in 2004, when he hit .334 with the Dodgers.
Beltre was playing for a new contract back then, just as he is right now, so the Sox need to be cautious about offering him a long term deal. But with Mike Lowell set to retire and no 3B prospects ready to step up, it seems foolish to let Beltre walk in 2011.
Here's what we know:
Beltre is a Scott Boras client. The relationship between Boras and the Red Sox has soured some in recent years, but the Sox are going to have to continue to work with him if they want to sign star players.
Beltre reportedly turned down a 4-year deal from the Athletics, to sign with Boston and spend 2010 proving his worth. That tells me, Beltre will be looking for no less than a 4-year deal this offseason. Beltre has logged 500+ at-bats in 9 of his 11 full season in the majors and has already tallied 542 at-bats this year. He'll be 32 in April, so the question is: will he remain dependable into his mid-30s or will all those innings catch up to him?
Take this for what it's worth, but the Sox gave Mike Lowell an extension after a very good 2007 season. He was 33. Up to that point, he had averaged 551 at-bats per season through the first 8 years of his career. Since the, he's totalled 419 in 2008, 445 in 2009 and 188 this season due to injury while earning over $12 million per year.
You can see why Theo Epstein might be hesitant to hand a 32 year-old Beltre a $40 million deal after an abnormally productive season.
So let's take a look at Theo's other options:
After Beltre, the next best options at third base are Aramis Ramirez (33), who has a $14M player option with the Cubs for 2011. Jorge Cantu (29) who has a little pop and experience at both corners, but has bounced around the league due to in inconsistent play. Jhonny Peralta (29), who also has 20 HR power, but isa career .264 hitter with a .751 OPS. Veterans like Ty Wiggington and Miguel Tejada who you could use as a stop gap until a 3B or 1B prospect is ready. Or Jed Lowrie, who has played pretty well since returning form a long DL stint, but remains unproven.
The other option is to shift Kevin Youkilis to third and try to sign a new first baseman. If the Sox re-sign Voctor Martinez, they could use Jason Vartiek and a rookie like Mark Wagner behind the plate, but that's a blog post for another day. Here'sa look at the Free Agent 1Bs:
Adum Dunn (31), who is really a DH, but is almost a lock for 35 HRs, 100 RBI and a solid OPS. Or Carlos Pena (33), who also has 30/100 potential, but is hitting .203 this year and just .242 on his career.
Now here's where it get's interesting.
The Cardinals will pick up the club option on Albert Pujols this offseason, but he'll be a free agent in 2012. So will Prince Fielder (28 in 2012) and Adrian Gonzalez (30). There's a very good chance that the Sox will make a run at one of these guys either for first base or DH, so the Sox could try to bridge the gap with a veteran or try their luck with rookie Lars Anderson.
That would give you a potential duo of Youkilis and Gonzalez (example) in 2012. So the question is: Is that really that much better than a combo of Beltre and Youkilis?
If you swap out Pujols, it's a no brainer, but if Beltre can repeat his 2010 season in the future, it's tough to say that Fielder or A-Gon would offer a significant upgrade. The key factor there is age. In 2012 Beltre will be 34 at the start of the season, while Fielder will turn 28 and A-Gon will turn 30 that May.
Bottom Line: The Sox have options, but all of them are going to cost a good chunk of change. I like the idea of getting younger at 1B and sliding Youk to 3B, but that means 2011 because another "bridge year" of sorts if we let Beltre walk and look towards the future...
Would you be happy woth Youk and Lowrie at the corners if you knew the Sox were going to add A-Gon, Fielder or Pujols in 2012?
I would be...
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