MLB Buyer Beware: Adrian Beltre Is the Epitome of the Contract Year Theory

Chris Murphy@@SeeMurphsTweetsAnalyst INovember 23, 2010

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 15:  Adrian Beltre #29 of the Boston Red Sox watches his home run in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 15, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

It's funny how an athlete seems to do his job to the best of his ability when there are question marks surrounding his future payment. Although, you can't really blame them because we are all guilty of doing it.

If you were given four years of guaranteed money, would you find yourself working harder than you did the previous year to get that money, or just enough to not get fired?

I bet during that fourth year, right before your evaluation, your work would suddenly bumped up on your priority list.

The point being, we aren't judging athletes for suddenly "breaking out" when money is involved, but simply informing them that we notice.

We notice in the way we draft them in fantasy sports or how we judge how much our favorite team should pay them, but for some reason there is always some franchise out there who seems to ignore the trend and signs an inconsistent player to a long-term deal based only on the previous season. 

Adrian Beltre will be that player this season. No one epitomizes the contract year player like him.

Organizations need to use a player's history as a resume rather than solely looking at just the previous season before handing them over a huge contract.

If not, you end up with a Milton Bradley scenario in Chicago, basing an entire contract on one season instead of saying to yourself, "If I give a crazy, injury-prone athlete more money, I wonder what he'll do?"

A Javier Vazquez scenario in New York this season is another example of looking at one year rather than a player's career.

Or the Derek Lowe scenario, where you give a player money based on a playoff performance rather than a career. See Jeff Suppan as well. 

Or you end up giving a player a contract that is impossible to live up to like Carlos Beltran or Alex Rodriguez.

And, of course, there's always the New York Yankee/Chicago Cub genius general management move, where you simply give a guy a whole lot of money for no reason, seen in Chien-Ming Wang and Kosuke Fukudome.

These are the dangers of free agency, which ironically continue to be tested by the same "let's win via free agency" franchises, making it so much more enjoyable to laugh at them when they fail to win by overpaying everyone.

Although it is tempting to grab a guy who was an MVP candidate the previous year and say, "Maybe he's finally gotten his act together," an organization should really look at the career as a whole rather than just one speck of it. Players don't suddenly break out when they are 30 unless a paycheck is on the horizon.

But enough lecturing and back to Adrian Beltre.

All you have to do is look at the history.

1999 - .275 BA, .352 OBP, 15 HR, 67 RBI, 84 R
2000 - .290 BA, .360 OBP, 20 HR, 85 RBI, 71 R
2001 - .265 BA, .310 OBP, 13 HR, 60 RBI, 59 R
2002 - .257 BA, .303 OBP, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 70 R
2003 - .240 BA, .290 OBP, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 50 R

And here comes the contract year.

2004 - .334 BA, .388 OBP, 48 HR, 121 RBI, 104 R.

Okay, we can give Beltre the benefit of the doubt since he had just turned 25 years old and perhaps finally grasped the game. Seattle gave him a five-year, $64 million contract.

And we're back.

2005 - .255 BA, .303 OBP, 19 HR, 87 RBI, 69 R
2006 - .268 BA, .328 OBP, 25 HR, 89 RBI, 88 R
2007 - .276 BA, .319 OBP, 26 HR, 99 RBI, 87 R
2008 - .266 BA, .327 OBP, 25 HR, 77 RBI, 74 R
2009 - .265 BA, .304 OBP, 8 HR, 44 RBI, 54 R (111 games)

With a stroke of genius, Boston signs Beltre to a one-year deal for $9 million, knowing a contract year is on the horizon.

And here comes the contract year.

2010 - .321 BA, .365 OBP, 28 HR, 102 RBI, 84 R.

So, here we are again.

Beltre is 31 and coming off an incredible season. He is a free agent.

The smart thing to do would be for teams to continue swapping Beltre around with one-year contracts, using and abusing his contract year explosions in search for a long-term contract.

But we all know, one of those "let's win via free agency" genius teams out there will give him a long-term contract this season that he won't live up to.

Here's hoping it isn't one of your teams.


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