One of the most fascinating rumors to come to life over the past few weeks has been the Adrian Beltre to the A's rumor. The normally frugal Athletics are taking a "serious look" at signing Beltre, who at just 30 years old, is one of the best free agents left on the market and by far the best free agent third baseman. As ESPN's Buster Olney writes:
"They are taking a serious look at third baseman Adrian Beltre , who would fit the trend for the defensive-minded metrics crowd this winter: Seattle, Boston and, yes, the Athletics, who have already added Coco Crisp ."
In theory, signing Beltre makes tons of sense for the Athletics. The A's need to find a power hitter in the middle of the lineup, who can drive in runs and they need to find a dependable third baseman in place of Eric Chavez, who can play top notch defense and solidify the A's as one of the best defensive teams in baseball. Beltre fits both of those needs.
But the problem for the Athletics lies in the cost. Even though Beltre had a down season in 2009 and missed plenty of time with injuries, he is thought to be seeking a multi-year deal that exceeds $10 million annually.
I seriously doubt that the A's would be willing to pay Beltre that much money, let alone commit to him for so many seasons given his injury plagued history. The Athletics payroll will probably sit somewhere in the $60-$70 million dollar range, which makes it foolish to think that they would commit such a large portion of their payroll to one player.
Luckily for the A's, the market for Beltre has not really developed as he or agent Scott Boras would have hoped. Teams like the Giants, Cardinals, Red Sox, and Mariners have expressed interest in Beltre, but only in the right scenario and only if the price is right. None of those teams seem to have identified Beltre as a top target even though they have far more payroll flexibility than the A's to sign Beltre.
The best and most logical chance that the Athletics have at signing Beltre is by offering him an incentive laden one-year contract with a mutual option for 2011. If the Athletics guarantee Beltre something like $6 million in 2010 and offer him another $4-$6 million in incentives, then Beltre could wind up making a substantial amount of money as a free agent next season as long as he stays healthy and productive.
In addition, a mutual option of $12 million dollars or so would be sufficient because if Beltre becomes a fit in Oakland, then the A's can keep him as a replacement for Eric Chavez. More likely than not, however, if Beltre has a stellar 2010 season, there's no way he would pick up this option.
In short, if Beltre really wants to maximize his earning potential, a one year contract is his best bet. There's no reason to think that if Beltre is healthy and productive in 2010 that he cannot land a lucrative multi-year contract next winter given how weak the class of free agent third basemen is.
The Athletics would benefit from this deal because Beltre would be a substantial upgrade in the short term, while offering no long term commitment. For a small market club like the A's, this type of contract is the only one that really makes sense for them financially and gives them the opportunity to put an improved product on the field in 2010.
I know that Beltre specifically declined the Mariners arbitration offer a few weeks back because he was hoping to land a multi-year contract. Well, Beltre still might be able to do that, but the years and dollars will be far less than what he expected.
The only reason that Beltre should accept a multi-year deal is if he thinks that contract is maximizing his earning potential as a healthy and productive player. Given the fact that Beltre is coming off an injury plagued season and is struggling to find teams willing to meet his price on the market, I think it's safe to say that he has virtually no chance to maximizing his earning potential with a multi-year deal this winter.
If Beltre comes to this conclusion, then he will become more open to accepting a one-year deal.