Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz reached the 100-RBI plateau on the same night this week, creating a fitting link between two players who figure to be critical pieces in the most significant Red Sox off-season in recent memory.
Ortiz is likely to return, with the Red Sox picking up his option for next year, no matter how much the veteran slugger pushes for a multi-year contract. But Beltre remains something of a mystery, and the decision is anything but an easy one.
Beltre has certainly given the Red Sox everything they hoped for this season and more. He has spent the entire season hitting better than .300. He hit 20-plus homers and topped 100 RBI.
He played through pain. He was embraced in the clubhouse and beloved by his manager. Despite an early flurry of errors, he provided his usual steady and impressive defense.
And yet any possible hesitation to ink him to an expensive, long-term deal is understandable.
Because he's had a season like this once before.
Beltre, of course, famously belted 48 homers in a contract year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004, massaging that outburst into a lucrative pact with the Seattle Mariners that was followed by four years of uneven and injury-marred play.
There were indeed extenuating circumstances, most notably the ballpark he played in, which is about as forgiving to hitters as a cement wall is to outfielders. But there's still something that makes me wary about a player whose only breakout seasons have come when a free agency feeding frenzy loomed on the horizon.
See Drew, J.D.
Beltre has never hit more than 26 homers in any season other than this year and 2004. Those also happen to be the only seasons in which he produced a batting average better than .300—or better than .290, for that matter—and those campaigns remain the only two in which he's reached 100 RBI.
Cause for concern, no?
Those are the facts. This is my opinion: I think Beltre is still worth a contract, at the right price.
If someone swoops in and offers him $18 million a season, the Sox should let him walk without a second thought. They still have options—move Youkilis to third and sign a stop-gap first baseman or keep Youk at first and find a fill-in at third for a year—that are viable enough so as not to have to pay a silly ransom just to hang on to Beltre.
But if he is willing to return for three years or so at somewhere in the neighborhood of a modest raise, I'd sign him in a heartbeat.
And here's why.
First of all, the Sox need him. They already have a dearth of pop in the lineup, and losing Beltre would be another step back. Second of all, I think he can closely replicate at least a portion of his numbers if he returns to Boston.
Beltre appears to thrive in the pressure-cooker that is the Boston media market, and also has—as any solid-swinging right-hander does—the right stroke for Fenway Park.
Do I expect Beltre to reproduce a .320-30-100 type of season?
No. But there's no reason to expect less than a .280-25-85, which I would certainly take when you factor in his superb defense.
Beltre may never be the slugger he was for one season in 2004, but there's reason to believe he won't be the guy who hit eight homers in 2009, either. He figures to be a productive, reliable gamer at the plate with a gold glove on one arm and a rifle on the other in the field.
That's something I'd be willing to pay market value for over the next several seasons.
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