One of the few bright spots of the Red Sox' 2010 season was Adrian Beltre's triumphant return to stardom.
In 154 games with Boston, Beltre hit .321 with 28 homers, 102 RBI and a .919 OPS. He combined his newly rediscovered offensive prowess with his Gold Glove defense for a whopping 7.1 Wins Above Replacement. It's not an exaggeration to say that the Red Sox might have finished below .500 without him.
Now a free agent, Beltre will leave a huge hole in the Red Sox' depth chart if he doesn't re-sign with Boston. If he doesn't return to Fenway in 2011, word on the street is that the Red Sox will try to pry first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres.
With Victor Martinez heading to Detroit, it's especially important for the Red Sox to upgrade their lineup. The question is: Which Adrian should they pursue?
The answer is pretty clear: Beltre. In this slideshow are 10 reasons why Boston should try to re-sign him instead of trading for A-Gone.
CC Sabathia. David Price. Maybe Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte. The best pitchers the Red Sox will face in the AL East have one thing in common: they're left-handed.
Of course, picking the right-handed Beltre over the lefty Gonzalez solely because of his handedness is absurd—you don't build your roster for the sole purpose of gaining the advantage against two teams while ignoring the other 27.
But while potential matchups against the Rays and Yankees shouldn't be that much of a factor in Boston's decision, in a division where a team that wins 90 games would have no chance at the playoffs, the Red Sox should seek an edge anywhere they can get it.
Speaking of handedness, don't forget that...
The Green Monster is the most intimidating fence in Major League Baseball, but its imposing altitude is not a deterrent to right-handed hitters. In fact, it's an offensive advantage.
Even if it's tough to get the ball over the wall, it's easy to get it to the Monster—the left-field corner is just 310 feet away from the plate. What could be a routine flyout in a deeper park might be an off-the-wall double at Fenway.
Compare that to the insane circular fence in right field—it's 420 feet to right-center, making it tough for lefties to pull the ball out of the park. This would be even more important if the lefty in question wasn't Gonzalez, who has demonstrated good opposite-field power.
In terms of maximizing their values to the team, Beltre also has the edge on defense because...
Both Adrians are fantastic fielders. Beltre won a Gold Glove this year, and Gonzalez took home the trophy in both 2008 and 2009. Either way, the Red Sox' infield is in good hands—but more-so with Beltre.
The difference is that, if the Red Sox re-sign Beltre, 2007 Gold Glover Kevin Youkilis gets to stick at first base, where he has established himself as one of the best defenders in baseball.
If Boston winds up with Gonzalez, Youkilis will shift to third. He's looked good at the hot corner throughout his career (6.9 UZR/150), but he's not as adept as he is at first base. Plus, a player who will be 31 on Opening Day should be moving to an easier position, not a harder one.
But even assuming Youkilis' defense is roughly equivalent at both positions...
In 2010, Youkilis was the third-string third baseman at best—Beltre was the starter, and Mike Lowell was his main backup.
If the Red Sox sign Beltre, Boston will have insurance at the hot corner even without Lowell. But if the Boston goes with Gonzalez and something happens to Youkilis, who's on third? (insert Abbott and Costello joke here)
Finding a backup plan in case a star fails is usually not a major factor in going after a top-tier free agent, but after seeing the roster torn up by injuries in 2010, it's hard not to think about it.
But that's not the only reason signing Beltre would be safer...
While an extremely lucrative offer might change his mind, Gonzalez is expected to test the open market when his contract expires after the 2011 season.
Meanwhile, Beltre is going to command a multiyear deal from whoever signs him. Some may see that as an obstacle to a deal, but in a way it's a blessing—you can count on having him around for probably three or four more years.
In addition to not getting a commitment past 2011, Gonzalez would hamper the Red Sox of the future because...
The Red Sox might not have the infinite pockets of the Yankees, but they've got stacks on deck. Beltre might end up costing a little more than they'd like, but it's fair to say that John Henry can and would spend to keep him in Boston.
A Gonzalez deal, on the other hand, wouldn't be a matter of money, but prospects.
The Red Sox have one of the best farm systems in the game and would survive whatever losses such a deal would cause them. But promising young players are of a much shorter supply than payroll dollars, and trading future stars for a one-year rental could come back to haunt them.
Of course, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that...
The Padres aren't some hard-luck rebuilding team that's already given up on 2011.
After shocking the baseball world by hanging in the playoff hunt until the final day of the 2010 season, San Diego looks like a clear contender for the NL West crown next year. If you think you have a good shot to make the playoffs, you don't trade your best player.
A-Gone is on the block only because the Friars know they can't afford to keep him in San Diego past 2011. They would deal A-Gone only if the package they got in return was worth more to them than having him around for a potential playoff run—which, as you'd imagine, is worth quite a lot.
As long as the Padres think they're contenders, it's going to be tough to pry him from their hands. Therefore, trying to acquire him now makes little sense because...
There's only one time of year when top-tier free agents hit the market: the offseason. Unless a player is left unsigned past Opening Day or released midseason, you can't negotiate with him—and if he falls into one of the aforementioned categories, he probably won't be a prized catch.
Trades, on the other hand, can happen in some capacity year-round. If the Red Sox re-sign Beltre and he goes down with an injury, they could trade for Gonzalez (or someone else) in March or May or July to take his place—like they did for Jason Bay in 2008.
But if the Red Sox miss out on Beltre now, they won't get another chance anytime soon. And even assuming it was now or never with A-Gone, Beltre would make more sense because...
Beltre blew past Alex Rodriguez and David Wright in the third-base rankings with his phenomenal 2010 campaign. The only third basemen for whom legitimate arguments that they are better than Beltre can be made are the Rays' Evan Longoria and the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman—neither of whom is going anywhere anytime soon.
Even if his offensive numbers regress, he should still be better at Fenway than he ever was in Seattle's Safeco Field, and his glove has been consistently solid throughout his career. Boston is unlikely to find anyone better to man the hot corner anytime soon.
By contrast, while A-Gone is clearly a fantastic first baseman, he's a long way from the top. Fairly or not, Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira will all top Gonzalez on somebody's list.
Fielder's contract also expires after 2011, and the Brewers should be more eager to move him than the Padres are for Gonzalez. And if the Cardinals are out of contention by the trade deadline and extension talks with Pujols reach an impasse, St. Louis could theoretically place "The Machine" on the block.
Beltre definitely seems like the more urgent investment because...
As the 2010 season drew to a close, consensus seemed to be that, while each of Beltre, Victor Martinez and David Ortiz was likely to re-up with the Red Sox, Boston would not retain all three.
Knowing that, when Boston exercised Ortiz' option for 2011, it implied that at least one of Beltre and Martinez wasn't coming back.
Then, yesterday, the Detroit Tigers signed V-Mart to a four-year, $50 million contract—meaning that the Red Sox are both in need of offensive production and have more money than they otherwise would have.
The prophecy has been fulfilled, and it's not too late to keep Beltre.