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Fans have long suspected that certain players only perform at their best when they are in a contract season, and Adrian Beltre has become the poster boy for their belief.
Beltre had arguably the finest all-around season ever recorded by a third baseman in 2004—the final year of his contract with the Dodgers. He then signed a five-year, $64 million contract with Seattle as a free agent and saw his numbers take a serious dive.
After failing to live up to expectations with the Mariners, his bat seemed to come back to life during his single season in Boston—leading to a six-year, $96 million contract with the Rangers. Here we go again, said the naysayers.
Let’s look past the fact that this idea was unproven during Beltre’s final year in Seattle, when a myriad of injuries limited him to 111 games and prevented from producing when he did play. Instead, people need to realize that Beltre was not underpaid during his time in Seattle.
His perceived struggles at the plate were due almost entirely to playing home games at Safeco Field, which is perhaps the worst ballpark in MLB for right-handed sluggers. Beltre has a career tOPS-plus of just 82 in games at Safeco, which is 18 points lower than his career tOPS-plus. Not surprisingly, Beltre has hit 11 percent better than the average hitter on the road during his career—not too shabby, though not in and of itself worth what Seattle paid him.
Beltre, however, is the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball—possibly the best we’ve seen since at least Brooks Robinson. His glove has remained consistently outstanding regardless of his home park, and adding him to the defense is the equivalent of saving 20 runs over the average third baseman during the course of a season.
Still need convincing? Fangraphs’ valuation numbers place his worth at $67.2 million over the course of his contract with Seattle, or $3.2 million more than he was actually paid.