Why Extending Adrian Beltre Is Wrong

beltre

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:

AgeWAR
367.3
372.3
382.3
392.6
402.8

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:

AgeWAR
361.8
371.9
382.7
391.4
40-0.6

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:

AgeWAR
355.0
366.1
376.1
381.8
39-0.4

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:

  1. Eddie Murray hit 1.1 WAR at 37, then never got close again save for an outlier age 39 season.
  2. Al Kaline posted 2.6 at 37, then never got above 1.0 for the next two seasons.
  3. Ripken is well detailed above.
  4. 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.

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Samuel Hale
When Samuel isn't displeasing you with his opinions about the Texas Rangers, he's trying to corral young broadcasters at UTA Radio. If you buy him pizza and high class chocolate milk, he'll probably be your best friend. Probably. He got to see Texas clinch a World Series berth in person, and sports cried when Pudge Rodriguez went into the Rangers Hall of Fame. He enjoys the Oxford comma and over tweeting.

17 comments

  • Is it possible there is more value that Beltre brings than just WAR?

    I know that in general it is wise to avoid paying for past performance, but do you think this contract gives the Rangers any amount of “The Rangers take care of their own” goodwill when they are trying to sign a free-agent?

    Also, is it possible that they get enough in merchandise profits from Beltre that negates any (or at least some of) his on field drop-off?

    There may be other difficult to measure benefits that WAR doesn’t account for.

  • If the open market is paying 8m per win, I don’t think it’s insane to assume Beltre can average the less than 2.5 WAR needed to justify 18m in his 17-18 seasons. As far as Gallo goes, he could move to 1st and step in for Mitch, providing he figures out how to make the bat touch the ball a bit more freguently. I don’t see another prospect banging down the door at 1st, so it’s a good fit.

  • I don’t really see Gallo being ML ready anytime soon. Going from 40% to 25% SO rate is a nice improvement, but I think he needs to spend the whole year working on his swing and pitch recognition. Giving AB the 2 years gives Joey plenty of time to become the player he’s capable of being. We saw his difficulties and frustration last year. Why not let him work everything out in the minors?

    • So after this went live I talked with a couple of our other writers about this and the idea of when Gallo is ready came up. I didn’t fit this into the article so I’m glad you brought it up.

      The idea of Gallo being ready is a super subjective concept. What you think makes a player ready could differ from what I think makes one ready. In reality we don’t know for 100% sure until the get extended ML time. So I didn’t discuss this at length in the article for that reason. We spoke about a lot more objective ideas, like WAR and salary which are tangible and measurable.

      In that same way, regardless of whether Gallo is “ready” or not he would be cheaper than how you’ve extended Beltre. That is something that we can rely on outside of quality. In that same way, you would expect so much less from him because of that. My contention is that sharp decrease in compensation means you can ask less of him and be reasonable. After all, you expect the guy making $18M to be better than the guy making $500K.

      Like I said with a different gentleman, I could just as easily be wrong as right. For what the team has signaled this means, that they are good enough with Beltre to win a World Series, I hope I end up being wrong. Because if they do win a title with Beltre in this window, I promise that shortly after you’ll see me write about how I was wrong.

  • Hey, Sam, good piece. Well-reasoned, rational. But Fangraphs begs to disagree:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/adrian-beltre-ignores-age-free-agency/

    • Thanks for the time and the well wishes. With all due respect to the great people at Fangraphs, who I think are doing fantastic work in furthering the baseball discussion, I tend to take their projections and prognostications with a bit more salt than I used to. After all, they predicted Texas to be terrible last year and that didn’t quite come to pass. They’re projecting the same thing this year and while it is early that has yet to come to pass.

      This all underscores the idea that we don’t know what is about to happen. I could be wrong just as easily as I could be right. I think that’s part of the beauty of big discussions like this. It brings out the best in everyone. We cover all bases, see all ideas, and let everyone decide for themselves. I’m glad people disagree, that people are looking into this. If we had this attitude of rational discourse, research, and a willingness to listen to dissenting viewpoints we’d be a lot better off in every stage of life.

      Thanks again for the read.

      • Just for the record, I have also developed some skepticism about Fangraphs numbers, both the assumptions behind their construction and how the writers use them.

  • I definitely appreciate where you’re coming from, and I don’t disagree with very much of what you wrote. But sometimes we fans need to allow sentimentality to guide our wants. It’s a big part of sports-love.

    That said, I don’t actually think ownership will allow these specific dollars to get in the way of Darvish, if they really want him. And this extension will be done before Rougie is a FA. One can always say $X could have been used for some other player(s). There’s also no guarantee of landing those desired Aces or Big Bats. And it’s reasonable to think Beltre might hold status quo for a couple of years.

    Anyway, I ramble. So on another topic, I don’t usually like to be a pedantic a$$hole, so I don’t correct one-time errors. But since this is in your bio, it should be “World Series berth”.

    Appreciate the writing and research!

    • Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a player if you desire him. Cliff Lee is a great example after his outstanding 2010 run with Texas. That said, if I want something from a store if I don’t have the money to afford it then it doesn’t matter how bad I want it. That’s the general concern with Texas that I have. The price of free agent poker is only going up. Especially for the needs Texas is about to have(first baseman, starting pitching) in the quality needed for the team to achieve their end goal.

      Thanks for taking the time to read.

  • Even if his production hasn’t declined over the years, I would think the injury concerns alone would have caused the front office to tap the breaks. I love Beltre and I’m not sure there’s a Ranger fan out there who doesn’t. I’m not sure how this will effect the club in the short and long term but like I told you before, I can’t be too upset due to the length of the deal. Here’s to the last two years of him and Elvis arguing over pop ups in the infield and to a few more head rubs.

  • Would you rather him be like Ichiro who is wasting the final years of his career on the Marlins where no one cares?

    • vicente tortilla

      Yes, I would not want Belts to be a Ranger if he were playing as badly as Ichiro has been the past five years. As for Belts’ play being unmatched, Donaldson, Machado, Arenado and Bryant are better players. But hey, if you are happy with 18-19 homers a year, go nuts!

  • You should actually watch the games every day and see how Adrian performs out there. His play at third base is unmatched and he’s better now than he was 5 years ago. I hope I never get to be as cynical as you.
    I support this move by JD so Adrian Beltre can retire as a Texas Ranger and not on some other team. We let him go, he’d probably end up on one of our AL West rivals and that would sting even worse.

    • I’m a little concerned that you seem to know how many games I do or don’t watch. If you have a camera system in my home or other places, I’m going to need you to remove that immediately. Thanks.

      As to your actual comments, no actually he’s not. In 2012 via Fangraphs he had a 6.5 WAR. He hasn’t matched that in the three years since including posting a 5 year low last season at 4.6 So I could go off your eyes, since apparently you watch every game, or I could go from the people who’s job it is to help the world know how good players are objectively. 4.6 is still good, but it’s not as good as he was when he got here or even as good as his last year in Boston(6.4).

      As far as whether he goes to an AL West rival or as you say “wasting the final years of his career”, that doesn’t matter to me. I’m a supporter of the Texas Rangers. Players come and go. There’s no permanence to this. If you want to cling and cape for a millionaire who doesn’t know you, hey man knock yourself out. I don’t really have the time and space for that. My loyalty is to the colors. So do I care about where he would go post Rangers? Not a single bit because that’s just a dude changing workplaces. Doesn’t alter what I do on a daily basis one bit.

      Thanks for the read, though I’d advise maybe taking a second read through it. Or here, this might be the part you really need. “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.” Might think on that one harder before you tell me what I haven’t watched or don’t know about what he’s done over the last five years.

  • vicente tortilla

    I agree. It’s what bad teams do. Pay players for past performance and sentimentality.
    A.B. loses one tick of bat speed and he’s finished.

    • I appreciate the read here. I don’t disagree at all that paying for past performance is a bad tactic and could very well be what happens here. As far as specifically how(bat speed like you mentioned), I’m not willing to talk on that because I’m not an expert on stuff like that. Either way, appreciate the time.

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