Beltre to Rangers a win-win deal

Spurned by Cliff Lee(notes), the Texas Rangers didn’t spend the rest of their offseason boo-hooing. They just went for the next-best thing.

And while third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes) is more the leftovers from this season’s free-agent elite than a superstar, an Associated Press report that says he and the Rangers have agreed on a six-year, $96 million deal shows Texas isn’t content being a one-year wonder after going to the World Series.

The Rangers gain one of the game’s best defensive third basemen and Beltre earns the sort of deal he couldn’t fetch last offseason.

Scouts and advanced metrics agreed that Beltre's fielding ability is superlative.
(Cary Edmondson/US Presswire)

It took a standout year with the Boston Red Sox in 2010 for Beltre to re-establish his value in the open market, and Texas sought him despite having third baseman Michael Young(notes) signed for three more years at $48 million – plenty of which they’ll have to eat if they can trade him. If not, Young would likely slide into Vladimir Guerrero’s(notes) spot at designated hitter (and perhaps log time at first base) a year after he slugged .444 and got on base only 33 percent of the time.

Beltre, on the other hand, hit .321 with an American League-leading 49 doubles. Even more impressive was his glovework, which continues to distinguish him. Scouts and advanced metrics agreed that Beltre’s fielding ability is superlative, even if he did cede the Gold Glove the past two seasons to Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria(notes).

Whether Beltre’s bat can match that standard is the question that has dogged him – and will continue to – through the meat of this contract. The last time Beltre ended a season in such high standing came when he finished second in the National League MVP voting in 2004, when he hit 48 home runs and put up a 1.017 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That offseason, Beltre signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Beltre was a perpetual disappointment with the Mariners, whose home park stifled his power numbers. He never hit more than 26 home runs in a season during the prime of his career, and when he became a free agent last season, Beltre was looking more to rebuild value than cash in.

He certainly did so with the Red Sox, and the sustainability of Beltre’s success will be intriguing to follow. It’s easy to attribute it strictly to the switch of home parks – and Rangers Ballpark, a hitters’ paradise, surely won’t hinder him, either. Beltre, however, markedly cut down on strikeouts last season. His swing-and-miss rate was a career low and his ability to make contact on outside pitches was significantly higher than the previous season. Those skills generally do not translate well with aging players, though he is far from aged.

Beltre will turn 32 one week into the 2011 season, his 14th in the major leagues. He should eclipse 2,000 career hits and 300 home runs by September. The Oakland A’s and the Los Angeles Angels showed interest in him to the end of the bidding. Even before this contract, Beltre’s been paid more than $87 million and has now become the rare player to sign two long-term, big-money deals in the free-agent market.

The Rangers hope this one turns out better than the last.


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Updated Wednesday, Jan 5, 2011