Adrian Beltre Dispels the “Contract Year” Myth for Good

Joe HalversonCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2011

ST PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 04:  Adrian Beltre #29 of the Texas Rangers looks on from the dugout while taking on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game Four of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field on October 4, 2011 in St Petersburg, Florida. The home run is Beltre's third solo homer of the game.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Due to the pre-existing commitment known as earning money, I was unable to catch the Texas Rangers’ series-clinching 4-3 win over Tampa Bay earlier this afternoon.  However, when I read that Adrian Beltre put the Rangers on his back with the first three-homer game in ALDS history, I couldn’t help but crack a smile.

As a Seattle Mariners fan, I do not have a dog in this year’s playoffs, so I’ve been following specific players who used to play for my hometown team.  Adrian Beltre was one of my favorites during his time as a Mariner, mainly because I have a natural affinity for underappreciated talent that other people dismiss using questionable reasoning. 

Beltre was long ago labeled as a selfish player who only performed during contract years, instead of what he really was: one of the best all-around third basemen in baseball who suffered because of circumstances beyond his control.

Few free-agent signings have ever thrilled me as much as when the Seattle Mariners signed Adrian Beltre.  A 25-year old coming off arguably the best season ever put together by a third baseman, Beltre was the exact type of player that many felt the Mariners would do well to build around. 

The fact that the Mariners got him for what seemed like a below-market price (five years, $64 million) only added to the excitement.  Granted, he only had one season as an elite hitter (though his defense was always fantastic), but many figured that he simply needed a little extra time to put it all together. 

Skeptics, however, attributed Beltre’s monster numbers not to finally putting everything together, but instead to a mysterious ability to put up huge numbers while gunning for a new contract. 

(A few others thought it could be due to steroid usage, because it was the mid-2000s and everyone who experienced any kind of boost was under suspicion, no matter how nonsensical the charges were.) 

The skeptics seemed to have their suspicions confirmed when, after falling way short of expectations in Seattle, Beltre signed a one-year deal with Boston and proceeded to put up his best numbers (.919 OPS, 5.5 WAR, led league in doubles) since that brilliant 2004 season—numbers that flew right in the face of the offensive downturn that had gripped the big leagues.  After the season ended, Beltre was able to parlay his great numbers into another big contract, as the Rangers handed him a six-year, $96 million deal back in January. 

Here we go again, said the boo-birds.

But a funny thing happened to Adrian Beltre on the way back to mediocrity:  he became one of the best bats in the Rangers lineup.  Beltre led the Rangers in OPS and OPS+, tied for the team lead in home runs, and finished second behind Mike Napoli (who did not qualify for the rate stats titles) in WAR—all despite missing 38 games with at midseason hamstring injury.  Beltre has also put the team on his back in the postseason, as his three home runs in Game 4 can attest.

Suddenly, the contract-year label seemed rather shortsighted.

I have pointed out in several different forums that Safeco Field—an extreme pitcher’s park that is particularly tough on right-handed sluggers—was the real culprit behind Beltre’s depressed numbers in Seattle.  Really, it was no surprise that Beltre’s numbers went up when he went to far more favorable environments in Boston and Texas. 

It’s also worth mentioning that, according to Fangraphs, Beltre did, in fact, earn his money during his time with the Mariners.  Finally, it always seemd a little funny that the “contract year” myth somehow didn’t apply to Beltre’s injury-riddled final year in Seattle.

Hopefully now, after two very productive years by any measure, people will realize that the myth was never true to begin with.