2016 Position Preview – Third Base

We now come to the side of the infield that harbors two of the most beloved – and most controversial – Texas Rangers in recent memory. For some, most actually, Adrian Beltre belongs on the Mount Rushmore of All-Time Texas Rangers. Like many heroes of our generation, as they grow older, we tend to ignore, and sometimes deny, their mortality. That doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy what we can of them.

In 2015: Adrian Beltre, third baseman, entered the 2015 season and very shortly thereafter turned 36. He finished the year Seventh (7th) in the Most Valuable Player voting.

I’d love to drop the mic right here, but that wouldn’t earn my keep at Shutdown Inning. Did we see a drop in production and defense from the man that time seems to have forgotten? Yes. Inevitably, as he grows older, Beltre’s numbers will continue to decline. This past season, Beltre had his lowest batting average (.287), slugging percentage (.453), and OPS (.788) since his last year in Seattle (2009). He racked up his lowest hit total since his first year in Texas at 163. He also hit his fewest number of home runs in six years, at 18. He committed more errors (17) than he ever has in his time in Texas, resulting in his lowest fielding percentage (.956) since 2002.

How did he still find success?

Statistically speaking, Beltre came through when his team needed him the most. In the second half, as Texas seriously began to enter the discussion of “Division Champions,” the Captain’s slash-line was almost obscenely better:

Split       G GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1st Half   69 69 297 278 36 71 14  2  7  22  1  0 13 32 .255 .290 .396 .685 110  .263    74    92
2nd Half   74 74 322 289 47 92 18  2 11  61  0  0 28 33 .318 .376 .509 .884 147  .325   125   140

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/14/2016.

Furthermore, over his entire career, Beltre’s 65 strikeouts were the second lowest total of his career. Enough about the stats, though. At the end of May, Beltre went in hard at second base, trying to break up a double play against Boston. His thumb caught the base and, despite trying to play through it for three days, Beltre was placed on the 15-day DL. As the time progressed, and top prospect Joey Gallo was playing just well enough to consider keeping him up on the Major League roster, it did not look like Beltre’s thumb was going to progress well enough to allow him to return. The star third-baseman even told the press that he didn’t know how to manage it, a statement that scared many Rangers fans, because even as a prospect, nobody knew how to manage Beltre’s body better than Adrian Beltre.

Gallo, in the meantime, had done what many predicted – when he hit home runs, they were prodigious. Perhaps none was more spectacular than the one he hit off of Los Angeles Dodgers ultra-star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, which Vin Scully called “a marble.”

But, alas, as has been the case with Gallo, he’s only effective when he makes contact with the ball. In his short time up with the Rangers, a total of 25 games, he registered 43 strikeouts. Could he have stayed up and gotten better? Sure, but the Rangers were sitting at four games over .500 and there was no sign of the Astros slowing down. Beltre returned, far ahead of schedule and still not close to healed. All he did was slash .305/.357/.479 with two-thirds of his homers the rest of the way. During the Division series, Beltre injured his back, again trying to break up a double play, knocked in an RBI his next at-bat and then returned for Game 4 and racked up three hits in the last two games of that series.

That’s a pretty great mic drop.

In 2016: Beltre is going into a contract year, and while he has shown that his productivity may be on the decline, he is still going to be worth something for somebody. Could that somebody continue to be the Rangers? Beltre freed up some payroll money for the Rangers last year, switching his 2015 and 2016 salaries, earning less last year than this year, and there has been definitive mutual interest in retaining the soon-to-be 37-year-old heart of the Rangers beyond this season.

There is no doubt that Beltre will man the hot corner at the start of the 2016 season, injury notwithstanding, but how much production will be gained from him remains the biggest question. Beltre had surgery just after the season ended to fully repair the torn ligament in his thumb, and going into Spring Training, should be as 100% as a man of his age who has logged more than 600 plate appearances in each of the last four seasons can be. With a full, healthy off-season to regain his swing, and the fact that Beltre is Beltre, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine him having one more brilliant year of productivity.

Take into account the intangible leadership and mentor qualities Beltre possesses as well. Beltre makes everyone in the field and everyone in the lineup better simply by being active. His freak physical toughness and absolute professional demeanor should be viewed as a 100% advantage as the Rangers look to balance out their veteran lineup with youth energy. Part of why I, personally, was perfectly fine with letting Mike Napoli, another clubhouse chemistry leader, go to Cleveland, was because Beltre’s presence will be more than enough to keep the troops motivated and rallied.

Who backs him up, though? Undoubtedly, Joey Gallo and his prodigious power waits in the wings, but he might still need time in the minors to work on his plate discipline. While many fans might clamor for Gallo’s arrival, the more experience and seasoning he gets in the minors, the better the Major League product will be. By his own admission, Gallo tried too hard when he was sent back down and will have to refocus his skills.

As it is right now, Hanser Alberto is the incumbent utility infielder. He filled in quite admirably for Beltre in the Division Series when called upon. Despite a less than perfect showing in the field, Alberto is a defensive whiz at the hot corner. Couple that with the fact that Alberto won the Dominican Winter League batting title with a stout .390/.405/.512 slash line, and the Rangers probably have a decent backup for Beltre.

From the Hot Stove: The Rangers also added former Red Sox and Braves defense-first infielder Pedro Ciriaco to procure some internal competition for the utility infielder spot. Ciriaco played in a career-high 84 games with Atlanta last year and railed a decent .261/.275/.352 line, a level of production he hasn’t seen since his time in Boston. The contract is a non-roster pact with an invitation to Spring Training, so Ciriaco is going to really have to impress Jeff Banister during the pre-season to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.

The extension of Adrian Beltre would probably only be a story through Spring Training, as neither side enjoys negotiating once the season starts; the Rangers exercised their 2016 option on Beltre before the season started, signifying that they didn’t really care to have to worry about a plate appearance threshold. However, with Prince FielderShin-Soo Choo, and Josh Hamilton still under contract with Texas well after this year, the unavoidable questions are: A) Do the Rangers really have room for another aging, injury-prone, DH-bound player? and B) How much would they pay to keep him there?

The “Richard Durrett” Three Questions at this position:

  1. If anyone can defy odds and expectations, it’s Adrian Beltre – but how much production are you expecting from the 37-year-old third baseman?
  2. If Joey Gallo shows an ability to fully handle higher-level pitching, when is the right time to bring him up?
  3. Would you extend Adrian Beltre? And what would the contract terms be?

Later this week, we’ll invade the space of Beltre’s left-side infield buddy and examine the Shortstop position.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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