Why Extending Adrian Beltre Is Wrong
I like Adrian Beltre.
I don’t like Adrian Beltre’s extension.
That is the distilled essence of what you’re about to read. This is not an assault on Beltre himself. Beltre has been a fantastic Ranger over the last six years. Averaging five and a half wins above replacement with the charisma Beltre displays endears you to a baseball populous.
I still don’t like the deal.
In the press conference for Beltre’s signing, general manager Jon Daniels said the following (courtesy of the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s Jeff Wilson):
“This is about locking up what we feel is one of the best players in the game.”
That quote is an interesting one, mainly because of the word “is.” It’s accurate to say Beltre right now is one of the best in the game.
How much longer will that continue to be true though?
To find out, I went and saw how players of Beltre’s caliber and position played as they eased into their late 30s. Since I’ve already used WAR above (save your tweets, I know it’s not perfect) I’ll continue to use that as the measuring stick. The first name that came to mind is Chipper Jones. He fits all the same criteria as Beltre: Played third base, regarded as great at the plate, well loved by the fan base. Here are his WAR figures from age 36 until he retired at age 40:
Putting aside the fact that 2.3 WAR by itself is OK, the drop from 36 to 37 is scary. One year represented a five win drop, and it never recovered after that crater. How about Cal Ripken, another beloved third baseman. Baseball’s Iron Man from age 36 on:
It should be noted that the largest Ripken drop came at age 31 when he went from 11.5 at 30 to 4.0 at 31. Still, that is a precipitous drop and needless to say Ripken’s play didn’t age well.
Let’s go one more Hall of Fame 3rd baseman who might be the best comparison. Mike Schmidt is regarded as a top level 3rd baseman. He played until his age 39 season, which is the end of Beltre’s extension and likely his career. From age 35 on for Schmidt:
Three great players who all had long careers that ended by falling off a cliff relative to their heyday. If you covered up the names, you wouldn’t give those players $18 nevertheless $18 million.
Another nifty tool Baseball Reference has is they’ll give you players that are a close comparison to whoever you’re looking at. It doesn’t factor in position, just numbers. So I took a peek at the top guys Beltre compares to through his age 36 season. In order:
- Eddie Murray hit 1.1 WAR at 37, then never got close again save for an outlier age 39 season.
- Al Kaline posted 2.6 at 37, then never got above 1.0 for the next two seasons.
- Ripken is well detailed above.
- Dave Winfield missed all of age 37 with a back injury, but would go on to play until 43. Only once did he post a full season WAR above 1.0 after the age of 36 (39 with a 4.1).
All of this is one big giant warning sign that players past the age of 36/37 both at Beltre’s position, and players who offensively profile close to him fall off a proverbial cliff around the age Beltre just turned.
That doesn’t even take into account the perilous nature of Beltre’s body. Last year he missed both regular season and playoff time with thumb and back injuries. The trouble in his hamstrings is well documented, causing everyone to hold their breath when he runs the bases. He’s one twist, one tear, one anything from hitting the shelf for an extended period of time. Regardless of what I think about his future quality on the field, he isn’t worth a red nickel if he’s not in uniform every day.
It’s not like Texas didn’t have options also. If Beltre walking was going to leave Texas without a long term option they felt good about at third, this article wouldn’t exist. Yet one of their top three prospects is a strapping young third baseman. You might have heard of him. Joey Gallo is his name, murdering baseballs on a nightly basis is his game. He also won’t turn 23 until November, and will only cost Texas $500K until 2019. He can’t become a free agent until 2022. Texas could have saved $35 million by letting Beltre walk this offseason and starting Gallo at third for the next two seasons.
That’s $35 million Texas could have used bringing in a top level starter to either extend or replace Yu Darvish when his contract expires after next season. $35 million that could have gone to extending Rougned Odor through his 20s so he doesn’t leave in his prime. $35 million that could have gone to fixing any other holes that might crop up on the team.
Instead all that money and $1 million more sits on the shoulders of a man who all numbers point to being a liability as Father Time gets in his licks.
Fans don’t care, though. They don’t care that this move looks like a gamble at best baseball wise, and flat out irresponsible financially. The same people that were unhappy when Beltre signed a half decade ago are now ecstatic that he’ll receive more money to produce less while older.
Wrap your head around that one.
The worst part about that though? If/when he does start to fail, the whispers will begin. No matter how well loved you might be if you don’t perform, people will want you gone.
Ask Michael Young, who was regarded much in the same way Beltre is now. Fans caped for him during his squabble, but when he couldn’t produce on the field they turned on him. They cheered when he was shipped to Philadelphia for a bunch of spares.
Just ask Ian Kinsler. The enigmatic second baseman was the talk of the town most of his time here. He got his big extension after fans begged for it on social media, and they were happy. Then the pop-ups and mental mistakes became more frequent. By the time he was traded to Detroit, the same people that adored him couldn’t wait to say how happy they were that he was someone else’s problem.
Just ask Josh Hamilton. No more need be said there.
I don’t blame Beltre though. If someone offers you $36 million guaranteed you take it before they know what they’ve done. This is his last contract, so he should take as much money as he can. What happens next will not be his fault.
It will be the fault of a front office playing high stakes poker with an aging veteran despite all indicators screaming that they should fold
It will be the fault of a fan base who puts people on a pedestal as long as they’re good, then discards them like last night’s empty beer bottles when they stop producing to a level they find acceptable.
I’m sure I’ll come under fire for saying all this. Saying anything negative about Beltre or anything Rangers can draw the ire of Ranger Nation. Of all people, I should understand that concept. I’ll be turned into a monster because I spoke out against the current Rangers sacred cow.
I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.
So when those people come, and they will, I’ll tell them the same thing I said to lead off this piece.
I like Adrian Beltre.
I don’t like Adrian Beltre’s extension.