Beltre's glove is always superb, but until 2010, he hadn't hit like a superstar in five years.
Adrian Beltre will be the third-most sought-after free agent position player this offseason, but may provide the best value to whoever signs himt.
Beltre declined his player option for 2011, after a 2010 season in which he made $10 million while delivering 7.1 WAR. On top of his defense, which is always stellar at third base, Beltre has rediscovered the batting stroke that eluded him during his entire five-year tenure in Seattle.
In 2004, after a season in which he hit 48 home runs and was worth 10.1 WAR, Beltre inked a five-year deal worth $64 million to play for the Mariners. His time there was miserable, however, and Beltre fled to Boston last winter.
The decision was a good one: Beltre should now receive a deal in excess of four years and $45 million. Still, given his undervalued and unmatched defense at the hot corner, the team who signs him will be getting a bargain.
Which team will that be? It's impossible to say right now, but here are all 30 teams, ranked in order from least to most likely to sign Beltre.
Longoria isn't the best reason Tampa is uninvolved in the Beltre sweepstakes; money is.
Two simple things will stop the Rays from even considering Beltre: Evan Longoria, their slick-fielding young superstar at third base, and the promised cut in payroll the team will undertake this winter.
Given the team's pitiful attendance (ninth in the American League, and 22nd in MLB) in a playoff year, the team's management has made it clear that next year's team will be at least $20 million cheaper than this year's. In combination with the presence of Longoria (whom the Rays are getting for perhaps 15 percent of his market value for the next several years), that financial constraint takes Tampa Bay decidedly out of the running.
Zimmerman is the NL's answer to Longoria, and makes Washington an unlikely suitor for Beltre
The Washington Nationals rank directly behind the Rays in attendance this season, which helps push them close to the bottom of this list. Like Tampa Bay, they also have a power-hitting third baseman with a glowing defensive reputation in-house: Ryan Zimmerman could well win his second straight Gold Glove and his second straight Silver Slugger.
There is no particular reason for Beltre to have interest in the Nats, either, as they seem more likely than not to spend 2011 reloading and preparing for a more serious attempt to contend in 2012 when Stephen Strasburg returns to action.
Alvarez is no whiz with the leather, but it hardly matters: the Pirates are non-factors.
The organization seems committed to rookie Pedro Alvarez at third base in the long term, but even if they weren't the Pirates would be non-factors.
Beltre would account for roughly 25 percent of their planned payroll spending for next season by himself. He's worth a strong investment, but not that strong.
Greinke gets a $6-million raise this winter, which helps push Kansas City out of contention for Beltre.
The Royals owe pitchers Zack Greinke and Gil Meche a combined $25.5 million next season, or roughly 35 percent of this year's payroll. That pretty well hamstrings them in any pursuit of Beltre, as does the team's inability to field a winner at any point in the recent past.
The Royals don't mind, however, because the front office loves 2007 first-round pick Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas' glove at the hot corner leaves something to be desired, but his stick (.322/.369/.630 at Class AA and AAA this season) makes him a strong candidate to be the Royals' Opening Day third baseman.
The next big-name free agent the Indians sign will be the first one in the Mark Shapiro era. Shapiro, now ticketed to become team president after nine years as the GM, famously believes in building a franchise through other avenues, and his newly-promoted protege Chris Antonetti will have more pressing needs to address than third base. Pitching is one; extending Shin-Soo Choo is another.
For reasons both fiscal and philosophical, then, you can count out the Tribe.
Johnson has been a bright spot on a bad Houston team.
Houston didn't trade one-time franchise centerpieces Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt this past summer just to wade into free agency and spend big money again. The economic downturn and a poorly timed fall from perennial contender to also-ran have conspired to put the Astros in sorry straits.
Moreover, in this difficult season for the team, one of the big-time bright spots was third baseman Chris Johnson. Johnson is a 26-year-old whom few considered a major long-term prospect, but his .308/.337/.481 slash will earn him at least strong consideration to be the team's starting third baseman next season.
Rolen's resurgence makes Beltre unnecessary in Cincinnati.
Scott Rolen belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's hard to say for sure whether or not he will get there—Ron Santo, one of Rolen's best possible comparables and a perfectly deserving Hall of Fame hot corner man in his own right, is not in—but he certainly deserves the honor.
Cleverly, Reds GM Walt Jocketty extended Rolen through 2012 prior to his revival season in 2010, thereby keeping the Reds secure at third base and doing so in a cost-efficient manner. Cincinnati scored the most runs in the National League this year, so the smart money says they will not be chasing down high-priced hitters anyway.
The Tigers had been considered a potential player for Beltre, and certainly need a hitter of his caliber to join Miguel Cabrera in their lineup. After they re-signed Brandon Inge for two years and $11 million, though, it would hardly make sense to add Beltre. Neither man has nearly the same value if moved away from the hot corner.
Instead of chasing down Beltre, the Tigers will likely look at Adam Dunn to bolster their offense and try to rebuild a badly depleted pitching staff.
Seattle has been down this road once before, and even if (and this is a big if) they believe he somehow rediscovered the magic while in Boston, they seem unlikely to risk the same sort of fiasco that occurred during Beltre's first tenure.
The Mariners released first baseman Casey Kotchman, and could make a strong play for Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena this winter. Lesser options like Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee might entice them if they feel Justin Smoak will be ready to take over and do not want a DH type like Dunn.
Casey Blake is signed through 2011, and despite age and injury he remains serviceable. The Dodgers shelled out fairly big bucks to retain Ted Lilly and still need to add someone else to flesh out their rotation, while the once airtight bullpen has begun to show signs of weakness.
If the team can find a taker for James Loney, Blake could move to first to accommodate Beltre. The net impact of that deal would be fairly small, however, and the Dodgers should focus on plugging the current hole in left field after Scott Podsednik elected to become a free agent.
Placido Polanco and Chase Utley have the Phillies' infield gridlocked, and neither is going anywhere. Each is signed through 2013.
Philly needs a right-handed bat to balance its attack and could conceivably trade the reasonably-priced Polanco to make room for Beltre, but the payroll flexibility to sign him would still only come with a very inexpensive improvement to the bullpen. Fat chance.
The Rangers have other priorities this winter that will keep them from even considering Beltre. Cliff Lee obviously will capture the team's attention for as long as he remains on the market, and if the team is able to retain him there will be no money left for Beltre.
Even if Lee signs elsewhere, the Rangers have Michael Young at third base and more pressing needs. The team declined its option on DH Vladimir Guerrero, and will probably have to find a replacement at a cost of at least $7 million. It's hard to imagine that guy could be Beltre, though, since a good deal of Beltre's value stems from his defensive prowess.
One would have to imagine that at least one of Chipper Jones and Martin Prado will be back in action by next season, filling the team's ostensible gap at third base. Jones could move to first base as age begins to erode his defensive range, but Prado still fits there unless Omar Infante earns a starting job.
The Braves have only a little money to play with, and unless first baseman Freddie Freeman is ready to take over at first base (he isn't, yet), they have more pressing offensive needs. Having already released Melky Cabrera, the team may also try to upgrade its eclectic collection of modest outfielders.
The Braves' pitching staff seems relatively set, which should help them add to their offensive arsenal. With Billy Wagner retiring, and with Takashi Saito having been released and Kyle Farnsworth bought out, the bullpen will need some sort of supplement.
Atlanta's inability to fill Turner Field even during the playoffs makes it all but certain that the team will not have the money to do all those things, and still make a superfluous run at Beltre.
The champs will certainly look to improve their offense anywhere they can this winter, but the smart bet would be for them to get involved heavily in bidding on outfielder Carl Crawford. At the hot corner, the team already has two players in-house to whom the organization is in some measure committed.
Mark DeRosa signed a two-year deal before the 2010 season, and after injuries left him ineffective and pushed him to the disabled list early on, no one will take him off Brian Sabean's hands. Meanwhile, Pablo Sandoval is in hot water with the organization after poor conditioning led to a sub-par season, but he has more use to San Francisco than trade value to the rest of the league, so he should stay put.
The Giants should have no trouble luring at least one big-name bat into AT&T Park to help defend the title, but it will be either Crawford or a first baseman like 2010 Giants MVP Aubrey Huff or Derrek Lee. Beltre is not a fit.
Who needs hair when you have money?
The Cardinals gave Matt Holliday a seven-year, $120-million deal last winter to stay in St. Louis, and Albert Pujols is in line to make roughly half again that much via either extension or free agency during the next 13 months. If the Cardinals hope to keep Pujols—and GM John Mozeliak will suffer a wholly new and gruesome sort of public denigration and torture if they do not do so—then they will have to keep other expenditures within a reasonable zone this winter.
On top of all that, third baseman David Freese can really hit when healthy, so the team may have a very steady producer in place at the hot corner already.
Third baseman Chase Headley is one of the few bright spots on a team that collapsed and missed a chance to turn its long-term fortunes around in 2010. After the Giants stormed past San Diego in September, the Padres will explore trading first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell this winter.
Headley is no wizard with the bat, but he plays sparkling defense at the hot corner. At any rate, Beltre did not prove himself suddenly immune to the deleterious effects of a big home park on his stats by fleeing Seattle for Boston last season, and his numbers could well recede again if he ends up somewhere as pitcher-friendly as PETCO Park. Since Jed Hoyer and his staff are clearly trying to trim payroll, Beltre will not have to worry about that.
In a perfect world, the Cubs could move incumbent third baseman and near-cripple Aramis Ramirez across the diamond to first base and add Beltre's bat and glove at the hot corner, thereby improving their team in three ways at once. In the real world, there is no chance of that.
Ramirez will stay put during the final year of his deal after exercising his player option for $14.6 million. The Cubs have made a few things clear about their offseason priorities:
1. Payroll will be slightly lower than it was in 2010.
2. Right-handed pitchers and left-handed hitters will top their list of targets.
3. The team will not pursue big-name free agents in their traditional mode.
All three of those tenets bode ill for any hope of adding Beltre to the Cubs' already stratified roster, where the gulf between the good and bad players and the rich and poor ones seems to grow every year.
David Wright has a long-term deal in place to be the Mets' third baseman. The team has holes to fill in the pitching staff and at second base. Key relievers Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi might well be gone for good, and the team's relationship with closer Francisco Rodriguez seems to be beyond repair.
On Beltre's side of the ledger, he has little familiarity with the National League East. Citi Field is a cavern not unlike SafeCo in Seattle, where he so struggled. Finally, the Mets' track record with free-agent batters gets worse every year, with Jason Bay the latest to have a crummy season after arriving in Queens. All things considered, the Mets are no fit for Beltre.
Danny Valencia would make a relatively cogent case for himself as AL Rookie of the Year, and has surely done enough to earn the Twins' trust at third base. Meanwhile, Minnesota must re-sign or replace pitchers Carl Pavano, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Jon Rauch, plus key veterans Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson.
Target Field is yet another stadium in which home runs are tough to come by, and those parks have never favored Beltre in the past. The Twins could absolutely use Beltre's bat in the middle of their predominantly left-handed order, though, and if Valencia were a part of a potential trade for Zack Greinke (or if Minnesota felt confident enough to move Valencia to second base and dismiss Hudson) then perhaps Beltre could fit there.
Jose Bautista played mostly outfield for the Jays in 2010, but it is well-known he could play third in a pinch. He played 48 games there last season.
Toronto has less to offer Beltre than other clubs, as usual, and would do well to focus on replacing first baseman and free agent Lyle Overbay as a top mission. The bullpen also needs improvement, after GM Alex Anthopoulos (understandably) declined two years' worth of options on Kevin Gregg. Gregg could be back, but the Jays still need pitching help.
Bautista could be the first base replacement, and the team cannot possible still believe strongly in Edwin Encarnacion. Still, Beltre seems a long shot to sign north of the border.
Cuban defector and big-time prospect Dayan "The Tank" Viciedo proved what the White Sox organization already knew in his brief time with the parent club in 2010: He can hit. Still, there are some who think Viciedo could do with more fine-tuning in the minor leagues, and others who believe that, tuning or none, he will never be an acceptable defender of third base--though his raw athleticism there belies his nickname and his frame.
Viciedo isn't the only issue, though: Chicago needs to either re-sign or replace Paul Konerko on the other side of the diamond, a task to which Mark Teahen (presumptive starting third baseman who signed a three-year extension last winter, then promptly went bust in 2010) is hardly sufficient. Viciedo could be that guy, but then Teahen would likely occupy third base. As much as the Sox want for power, Beltre is blocked at every turn.
It might seem a very long shot, but the Brewers need pitching in the worst way, and their quest to add it could open the door for Beltre to fit in Beer Town.
To add a legitimate difference-maker on the mound, the Crew would surely have to part ways with one or more of its three most marketable assets, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Casey McGehee. If any of those deals come to fruition, the Brewers would have room for Beltre.
A trade of Fielder would shuffle McGehee across the diamond to first base, thereby opening up third base. Weeks' best replacement at second base might also be McGehee. Of course, if McGehee himself goes, Beltre would merely have to step into a vacant position at third base in Miller Park.
For this to happen, the Brewers would have to determine all three of these things to be true:
1. One of their key incumbent infielders is a threat to leave via free agency and not inclined to sign an extension with the team.
2. Beltre is substantially better than one or more of the three.
3. The team needs only to add one impact starting pitcher and maintain its offensive potency to compete seriously in 2011.
That seems a long shot, after all, but it certainly is not impossible.
Never count out the Yankees, although Cliff Lee is clearly the club's top priority this offseason. Alex Rodriguez would have to make a begrudging move to DH for this to be a real possibility, but age and injury have almost necessitated that move anyway.
Rodriguez can still hit, but he has not played a full season since 2007 and has been in decline with the glove ever since arriving in the Bronx. Beltre would shore up the team's infield in myriad ways, even helping to offset the disappearing range of Derek Jeter at shortstop.
The money is no issue for the Yankees, so this would actually be a brilliant acquisition by GM Brian Cashman. It sure does not seem likely, though, with New York so focused on re-signing Jeter and Mariano Rivera while pursuing Lee.
Josh Bell is a stud prospect and the likely starter for Buck Showalter's team at third base, but Bell is big and burly and may not be a whiz with the leather for a while. Beltre would need to sign a shorter deal to fit in Baltimore, but that might be to his tastes if it guarantees him big money and a chance to break out.
Under Beltre's veteran tutelage, Bell could progress much faster as a defender, and in the meantime, the O's would have a pair of highly productive bats capable of spelling one another as third basemen and designated hitters.
They aren't the usual suspects, but the Marlins have said they will take interest in one or more free agents this season, and Wes Helms is not exactly blocking all paths to third base in Miami.
The prospect of new stadium revenues beginning in 2012 could loosen the belts in Florida, making room for Beltre to join a young core that suddenly has a lot going for it. Neither Logan Morrison nor Gaby Sanchez is a candidate for a long-term move to third base, so the only potential roadblock at the position would be second baseman Dan Uggla.
The Marlins badly want to extend Uggla beyond the 2011 season, but will have a lot to overcome after he posted a career year in 2010. Uggla has little interest in moving to third base, but would have to do it if he signed a long-term deal. Chris Coghlan, who went down early in the year but should return to bat near the top of Florida's lineup, was a second baseman in the minors and now has Morrison blocking his path in left field. Coghlan could gum up the works, but Beltre fits well with the goals of the Marlins front office in 2011 and beyond.
If the Diamondbacks do not make a play for Beltre, it will not be because of a bloated payroll: They have very little in the way of 2011 obligations.
One major obligation is to Mark Reynolds, the incumbent third baseman and (a year ago) co-star of the team's homer-happy middle of the order. After a season below the Mendoza line, though, and with GM Kevin Towers looking for ways to trim strikeouts from the NL's windiest offense, Reynolds could be on the outs.
Trade whispers have already begun, and even if Reynolds does not get his walking papers, he could be moved to first base after Arizona declined its option on Adam LaRoche. Due in part to an aggressive approach at the plate, Beltre has never struck out more than 118 times in a season and whiffed only 82 times in 641 plate appearances with Boston last year. He would also improve a miserable team defensively.
Clint Barmes should be non-tendered by the Rockies this winter; he made $3.3 million in 2010 and hardly earned even that. Since he would probably get a raise through arbitration, the Rockies simply must let him go.
That opens the door for Ian Stewart, who will be arbitration-eligible for the first time and has put up much more palatable numbers, to move to second base. He is rough there defensively, but then he is rough at third, too. Since no especially attractive options dot the market for second basemen (Orlando Hudson is perhaps the top name, and will probably stay in Minnesota), the Rockies should look at moving Stewart to second and adding Beltre to their lineup. The defensive premium added by Coors Field makes that option even more appealing.
Eric Chavez is gone and likely done for his career, and Kevin Kouzmanoff's defensive prowess should not be enough to save him from being non-tendered by a team that badly needs to bolster the heart of its order.
Carl Crawford has been more frequently linked to Oakland, but the A's already have a pair of good defensive outfielders with speed and on-base ability. When the team picked up Coco Crisp's $5.75 million, it effectively withdrew from the Crawford sweepstakes.
Beltre offers some of what Crawford might have—a chance to make the A's baseball's best run prevention specialists. Fielding Bible Award winner Daric Barton patrols first base and highlights a team that also features defensive studs Cliff Pennington at shortstop, Crisp and Rajai Davis in the outfield. The pitching staff is also strong, and Beltre's Kouzmanic defense of the hot corner would allow them to keep building on that while adding to their punchless offense.
The two teams most seriously vying for Beltre have roughly equal resources at their disposal, so the reason the Red Sox will not get him is simple: They need him less.
Kevin Youkilis' injury was the single biggest reason Boston did not reach the postseason last year, but Youkilis will be back in 2011. Albert Pujols has the highest WOBA in baseball since the start of the 2008 season; Youkilis is second. The Caveman does not do it the way most guys do it; he has never hit 30 home runs in a season. Still, he is quietly a better offensive player than anyone else in the American League.
He is also a steady glove man at third base. He happily moved to first full-time when Beltre arrived in town, but saved nine runs in the three season prior to 2010 with his range and arm at third base. He could easily move back there, allowing Boston to pursue Adrian Gonzalez in trade again and opening the door for the team to sign a free-agent first baseman if that does not work out.
If the Angels have not given up on Brandon Wood by now, they need to have their heads examined. Wood was miserable in 2010, batting .146/.174/.208 in 243 plate appearances. Somewhere, Kevin Orie is shaking his head disapprovingly at Wood.
The Angels could hop right back into contention next season if they secure the services of Beltre opposite returning first baseman Kendry Morales. Their lineup would be nearly as potent as it was before their veteran assets became liabilities and began collapsing in on themselves.
The Angels, like the A's, prefer Crawford to Beltre, but someone will get Crawford and the rest of the league will have to make something else happen. Los Angeles could do a whole lot worse than Beltre.