The Adrian Beltre Dilemma
Adrian Beltre has been the face of the Texas Rangers for the past five seasons. His value to the organization has gone far beyond his on-field contributions, which have been outstanding to say the least with a combined bWAR of 31.5. As we approach the final year of his deal, his future with the team is now in question. The Jon Heyman report from last Wednesday afternoon brought that dilemma right back to the forefront.
After outperforming FA contract, Beltre thought not to want to take less than underperforming panda (19M per). Tex not there
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 9, 2016
First, let me say that I love Adrian Beltre and believe he’s a Hall of Fame third basemen. He’s one of the most beloved players in the league and probably the first thing that pops up when you search #GoodDude on Twitter. Beltre is everything you want in a professional athlete and it doesn’t appear there are many people who would argue that point. He’s a leader to the younger players and an example of a true professional. Back in 2011, I wasn’t thrilled about signing him as a FA and now I can’t figure out how he was ever available. He’s definitely earned the affection of the fans and will always carry the title “Ranger Great” with him forever. With all of that said, it’s not wise to give a 37-year-old player a 3 year $57M extension, through his age 40 season, based on current roster construction.
I’d be much more open to a Beltre extension if it weren’t for the Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder contracts. Both deals are roster anchors going through 2020 and adding to that isn’t a great idea. Would I try to unload either one of them, if not both, to keep Beltre? Absolutely, but the clock is ticking on being able to deal them without a Brinks truck to be named later. A quick look at 2017-2020 if we sign Beltre to 3/$57M without moving Choo or Prince:
One of these guys can’t be here going forward if you assume an annual player salary budget of $140-160M through 2019. That’s suddenly 35-40% of the total budget on players you don’t feel great about for one reason or another. Ideally, let’s try to keep the questionable contract cap at about 20-25% of the budget going forward with a long-term goal of zero. This now becomes a game of pick two.
The smart move when it comes to an extension for an older player is to wait as long as possible. I’d prefer to see this revisited around the All-Star break and see how the season progresses. Maybe you can unload Choo and/or Prince in the meantime. It’s also possible that the extension price tag drops. The last thing you want to do is give out a monster deal, watch the player regress significantly, and then wait for that brutal extension to kick in.
A few noteworthy examples of rushing into a regrettable extension come to mind with Tony Romo and Justin Verlander. I’m a huge Romo supporter and in many ways, he compares favorably to Beltre on what he means to his particular organization. The Cowboys signed him to a big extension before they had to and things changed significantly from the time of signing the extension to when it kicked in. In the case of Romo, it was mostly injury related but the fact is a much more team friendly deal could’ve been signed with a little patience.
The baseball example that jumps out to me is Justin Verlander. The age and contract aren’t quite comparable to the Beltre situation but the concepts are similar. The Tigers gave Verlander a monster extension at the end of Spring Training in 2013 and that deal kicked for the 2015 season. During that two year window, Verlander took a major step backwards and now has what is considered one of the worst contracts in baseball. Unlike Romo, his issue was performance related but there’s no doubt they’d take a mulligan if offered. I’m not expecting Beltre to bottom out completely this year but you never know. As so many people generically (and correctly) say, father time is undefeated.
What can we expect from a player like Beltre during from his age 38-40 seasons? I anticipate a steady decline in power that may be more of a result of his durability than diminished skills, especially if lower leg injuries come into play. Beltre put up his first sub .800 OPS in 2015 since his Seattle days. It’s possible he continues to hit like David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez for a year or two but we are talking DH’s with those guys. The 3B comps aren’t great at this point but Mike Schmidt is reasonable from a hitting and length of career perspective. Schmidt has a career stash of .267/.380/.527 with 548 HR and played to his age 39 season. During his age 38 season, Schmidt’s numbers fell off the table with nearly a .200 point drop in OPS from the previous year. His stats continued to plummet and he retired the following season at age 39.
As Beltre edges closer to 40-years-old, the idea of him being a reliable everyday 3B is a sketchy proposition. It’s important that he has a defined role going forward. I would prefer to see Beltre as a direct replacement for Mitch Moreland at 1B after this season with Joey Gallo taking over 3B. If we can move Prince and unclog the DH slot, I wouldn’t mind seeing Beltre at DH either. As mentioned in my previous article, it’s very important to consider the value of a right-handed-bat like Beltre when you look at a future roster that includes more lefties with Gallo and Nomar Mazara as regulars.
There’s definitely a lot work that needs to be done if the Rangers are going extend Beltre. As mentioned above, it all starts with unloading bad deals before you likely make another one. A two year deal with a team option for a third year would be preferable but we’ll see if that’s possible with Scott Boras on the job. Everyone needs to understand that we don’t owe someone a bad contract because they outperformed a previous one. I know most fans want Adrian Beltre to retire a Texas Ranger but it may be time to say goodbye after this year.