It's the old adage in sports; defense wins championships. It's been proven true in football and basketball, but in baseball? For the Boston Red Sox, check yes.
Since 2004, the Red Sox have made the playoffs five times, the ALCS three times and won the World Series twice. People keep a lot of statistics in baseball, but only one directly relates to the Red Sox recent up-and-down performance—defensive efficiency.
Baseball Prospectus calculates a team's defensive efficiency rating, which is the rate at which balls put into play are converted into outs. The Red Sox have ranked in the top 15 in Major League Baseball three times (the three ALCS trips) and in the bottom 10 the other three years. The last team to win the World Series outside of the top 15 was the 2003 Florida Marlins.
This season, the Red Sox finished with their worst rating (.679) since 1997 and it's obvious why. They aged quickly at both catcher and third base, while their carousel at shortstop produced mixed results. At the trade deadline, they acquired Alex Gonzalez to help the defense, but it was too little too late.
All of this led the Red Sox to an early exit from the playoffs by the gloves of the Angels, who coincidentally ranked first in the majors in defense.
In the midst of this defensive debacle stands Mike Lowell, a 35-year old third baseman who can still hit, but injury problems have limited his range in the field.
Lowell faced constant back and hip problems, which limited his range significantly at third base. The injuries forced the one-time gold glove winner to play 12 games at DH with more to come in 2010 and beyond.
It's clear that the Red Sox cannot go into 2010 with just Lowell at third base, so who could they possibly get to replace him?
My vote goes out to Adrian Beltre.
Beltre had one injury after another in 2009, which led to the worst season of his career. However from 2005-2008, Beltre averaged 151 games and hit .266 with an average of 24 home runs, 36 doubles and 88 runs batted in per season.
He played his home games at Safeco Field, which zaps righties of their power. In that span he also won two gold glove awards and has earned the reputation as one of the best defensive third basemen in the game.
His glove fits the Red Sox blueprint for success, which is play good defense and hit a decent ball. Beltre's offensive numbers could be revived at Fenway where the "Green Monster" would be the recipient of many of his line drives due to his propensity to pull the ball, especially for power.
It's clear that Lowell's future is not with the Red Sox because they already have a DH in David Ortiz and a future DH in Victor Martinez. Beltre would not only help get this defense back to a championship level, but his bat would be a welcome addition to the bottom third of the order behind Ortiz and J.D. Drew.