Adrian Beltre: To Extend Or Not To Extend
The biggest news over the few days or so has been the rumors about the contract extension that Adrian Beltre is looking for. We know there is mutual interest between Beltre and the Rangers brass. We know that JD and Company will do what they need to do make an extension happen as long as it’s in the best interest of the club. A possible number that I heard several months ago was in the four year/$50 million range.
We now know that at least Adrian Beltre is neither seeking four years nor is he seeking $50M.
There is some good news and bad news with that statement.
The good news is that Adrian Beltre is only seeking a three-year deal. The bad news, at least according to MLB Trade Rumors, is that Beltre is seeking upwards of $60M over that three years.
My first reaction to this news was give the man what he wants and ask questions later. I think I speak for most, if not all Rangers fans, when I say that I want to see Beltre retire a Texas Ranger and go into the Hall of Fame with a ‘T’ on his cap. And he will go into the Hall of Fame – I’m looking at you RJ Choppy.
Let’s go over why the Rangers should and should not extend Beltre.
Why Extend Beltre
Production. Despite entering his age 37 season, Adrian Beltre is still very productive. Beltre had a “down year” last year while battling a torn thumb ligament he suffered during a slide into second base. Beltre’s “down year” consisted of slashing .287/.334/.453/.788 with 18 home runs, 83 RBI, a wRC+ of 108 and an overall fWAR of 4.6. His overall fWAR ranked 6th among all major league third basemen. He also led all of Major League third basemen with a 13.8 defensive fWAR. (Admittedly defensive metrics are not widely accepted yet.) He has the third lowest K% among all big league third basemen as well at 10.5%. He may not be the power hitter he once was but with a wOBA of .337 (10th) he is still very valuable at the plate.
Take a look at how Baseball Reference projects Beltre’s 2016 season –
Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at for most third basemen, let alone one that is 37 years old. Fangraphs also projects Beltre to produce a fWAR of 3.8. Beltre is a four time Gold Glove defender, a three time Silver Slugger and has received MVP votes in each of the last six seasons. Let us not forget about his four All-Star appearances either.
Sure Beltre’s offensive production is on the decline but his production is still in the top half of the league. He still doesn’t strike out and he still is a hoover machine at the hot corner. You’re not going to get that from his replacement. At least not yet. Speaking of his replacement..
Joey Gallo is not ready. It became apparent last year that highly touted prospect, Joey Gallo, is not ready for the big time. Gallo showed holes in his swing and was very susceptible to offspeed pitches – particularly down and away. There is no doubting the power that Gallo possesses but what people do doubt is his overall hit tool and his glove. And they should.
In limited big league action last year, Gallo posted a -0.2 UZR at third base and only made 87.2% of what are considered “routine plays”. Compare that to an 11.8 UZR and 96% routine plays made for Beltre. Beltre posted 18 DRS (defensive runs saved) compared to Gallo’s zero. Like I said before, this is a small sample size for Gallo and defensive metrics are not perfect but those numbers are damning.
On the offensive side, Gallo had a 46.3% K rate and may have been helped with a .353 baBIP. The latter would rank second in the big leagues behind only his buddy Kris Bryant of the Cubs. With as hard as Gallo hits the ball, that baBIP may actually be sustainable for him.
Gallo will be ready eventually but having Beltre here allows him to develop further and doesn’t create any kind of rush to get him here.
There is always a place for Beltre. Let’s assume that Adrian Beltre is human, which is a big assumption, and starts to decline. The Rangers still have several options: They can move him to first base, assuming Mitch Moreland is gone, or they can move him to DH. Prince Fielder can move to the field or, if he has a great year this year, the front office might be able to find a team to take him and unload part of his contract.
Those are on-the-field solutions. Let’s consider the off-the-field options:
He is a huge mentor for the young guys and, lets face it, the Rangers have a ton of young guys that are here now or will be in a year or two. Beltre can be a mentor for all of the young guys and can be a leader on a team that is poised to make some deep postseason runs.
There was a play last season involving Rougned Odor where Odor rushed a double play turn and made a poor throw to first. Beltre, instead of ripping into Odor, pulled him aside and had a little chat about what had just happened. Odor came up the next inning and homered. I believe, and I could be wrong, that the failed DP turn allowed a run to score and then Odor’s home run gave the Rangers the lead back.
In any case, it’s that kind of leadership that Beltre provides. A quiet leader with a stern voice. A caring but firm hand. Those are the intangibles that you can’t put a grade on. Those are the intangibles that are not easily replaced. And say what you want about clubhouse chemistry, but it’s real and it’s a factor that Adrian Beltre grades out at an 80.
Why Not To Extend Beltre
Too much money. Beltre wants to make more than Pablo Sandoval, who makes north of $19M AAV. So let’s just use some easy math and say that Beltre wants his three years at $20M per. $20M for a guy in his age 38-40 seasons? Yikes. That is how you spell risk and disaster, despite what your school teacher told you.
The Rangers already have four massive contracts on the books for 2017-2019 which would coincide with Beltre’s extension years – Cole Hamels, Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus. Those four will combine to make more than $82M in 2017, 2018 and 2019. That is more than 50% of Texas’ projected payroll tied up in just four guys. Add another $20M in there and you have north of $100M of an estimated $150M payroll tied up in five players!
That is going to seriously hamper their ability to sign pending free agents to fill any holes that they may have moving forward. But even more importantly than that, it very well might signal the end of Yu Darvish as a Ranger.
Darvish is a free agent at the end of 2017. You have two more years with him before we walks and signing him to an extension will be nearly impossible if you re-sign Beltre. Nevermind the fact that trading for Cole Hamels made it significantly harder to re-sign Darvish anyways.
Extending Beltre, while being the popular move, just doesn’t make financial sense for the team at that price. There are too many other options that will end up being prohibitive because of the extension and I haven’t even discussed an extension for Odor yet. Unless Prince or Choo are moved, I don’t see how extending Beltre at $20M per is in the best interest of the club.
Age and injury concerns. Beltre is a freaking beast and, unless he breaks his damn leg, he’s going to be on the field. But at what level? As he gets older, the durability of his hamstrings will continue to decrease. Although he had surgery to repair his thumb ligament, how well will that respond going forward? What about the back issues that kept him out of part of the ALDS?
He will start the extension during his age 38 season! Think about that for a minute. You’re going to pay a 40-year-old guy $20M! While he is entertaining to watch on the bases, he’s going to start being a liability as what little speed he had diminishes to almost Prince Fielder-esque gate. Admittedly, he is a very smart base runner – his BsR (base running runs) was a 3.9 last year. That was good enough for 3rd best among players 30 and older and 23rd in all of baseball! But with a decrease in speed and agility, he may not be willing to take as many chances as he currently does. His mobility and range are going to diminish and, if he is not open to a position switch, he could end up being quite the liability in a game where the league is very rich with talent at the hot corner.
With age comes declining productivity. Beltre ranked 141st in MLB average exit velocity at 89.88 mph and 147th in baseball with 109.00 maximum exit velocity. The softer you hit the ball the more likely you are to make outs. That’s just how it works. Sure, he can get on base by hitting singles, some doubles, and the occasional home run, but then the Rangers have a $20M a year player who hits singles. And if you remember last year, the club already has one of those on their roster, and he hits right in front of Beltre.
Do you really want Texas’ three and four hole hitters making $45M a year and combining for just 40 home runs? Not me.
Youngsters in the wings. What if Joey Gallo takes the next big step in his career this year and fixes his hit tool? What if Gallo comes out and hits .280, slugs 40 home runs and drives in 120 runs over the course of the year? Then what?
JD would have just signed a 38-year old to a $60M contract. Do you trade one of the best young prospects in all of baseball because you prefer an aging third basemen who may not even make it through the life of the contract just so he can retire with your franchise?
That is what fans want, but it is not a smart baseball decision … at all. The game is younger and faster than it has ever been and I don’t want to go in the opposite direction. Power hitters like Gallo are rare and come at a premium. The Rangers have the chance to have one under club control for many years to come.
What about extending Odor? Where does that money come from if they’ve given it to Beltre? They are also going to need a first basemen and a catcher. Extending Beltre at $20M per is not a smart financial decision and JD knows that. In order to keep his club running smoothly and keep that winning window open, he’s going to need to stay young. Giving Beltre that kind of money is not how you do that.
Conclusion: My baseball heart says give the man what he wants and watch him ride off into the Texas sunset. My baseball brain says ask him to take significantly less money and, if he says no, thank him for his service and let him walk away. It’s going to hurt but that’s the nature of the business.
Do I want the Rangers to sign him? Absolutely, but not at his asking price.
Will the Rangers eventually re-sign Adrian Beltre? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I’m just glad that I’m not JD, because if he doesn’t re-sign Beltre, Arlington is going to go HAM and attempt to run the man out of this state.