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Beltre, Sox find timing is everything

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / January 9, 2010

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Scott Boras arrived at baseball’s winter meetings a month ago seeking a big contract for Adrian Beltre, telling teams it would take $65 million over five years to sign the defensively gifted third baseman.

But with Beltre coming off a poor season at the plate because of injury and teams still cautious in their spending, no takers were found. Beltre had offers, but none close to what Boras was seeking.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein presented a much different, yet intriguing, opportunity. He was prepared to sign Beltre for one season, giving him a chance to play for a contender, rebuild his value, and re-enter the market.

Boras called it a “pillow’’ contract, a place for his client to rest his head for a short time.

For a righthanded pull hitter such as Beltre, Fenway Park could be a boon to his bottom line.

“I’ve done this with many players,’’ Boras said. “You take a risk, but I trust this guy.

“I have tremendous respect and confidence in Adrian’s abilities.’’

Beltre was at Fenway yesterday, making official a $9 million deal that includes a $5 million player option or a $1 million buyout. That option would escalate to $10 million if Beltre makes 640 plate appearances.

“There’s a side deal that offers some protection,’’ said Boras, who intends to put Beltre back in play next winter. “It’s a calamity scenario.’’

The finances of the deal will help the Red Sox either avoid or pay less of the payroll luxury tax. And in Beltre, who turns 31 in April, they get a player who is now healthy and will be motivated to prove his worth.

“I made the decision to come here and take my chances to be on a team that has a legitimate chance to get to the World Series,’’ Beltre said.

“I’ve been in the big leagues for 11 years and I’ve only been in the playoffs once. I like the organization; I like what’s going on here. This team is built to win. This is the decision I’ve made and I’m really happy about it.’’

Said Boras, “I think we’ve built a great stage here, and there’s a chance for this rocket to take off.’’

Beltre hit .265 with eight home runs and 44 RBIs for Seattle last year, his season split in two by left shoulder surgery in June.

Beltre hit 76 home runs and drove in 265 runs in the three previous seasons.

“I’m healthy now, 100 percent,’’ he said. “Everything is fine.’’

The short-term commitment gives Epstein the roster flexibility he values as the Red Sox start the process of incorporating some of their prospects. Beltre also fits with the team’s increased focus on defense.

“Adrian’s reputation as one of the best defenders in the game, period, let alone one of the best defensive third basemen, is well known,’’ Epstein said.

“He’s got all of the attributes that you look for in a third baseman. He attacks the baseball and is really a weapon defensively. Looking forward to having him help our run prevention.’’

The Red Sox are convinced Beltre will rebound offensively once he is away from Seattle’s Safeco Field and its wide expanses.

“It’s hard to emphasize just how much Safeco deflates offensive performance for righthanded power hitters,’’ Epstein said. “It’s really a tough place to hit.’’

Having signed Beltre, righthanded starter John Lackey, center fielder Mike Cameron, and shortstop Marco Scutaro as free agents, Epstein said he was done building the roster - with the possible exception of a few minor moves.

Epstein said he is pleased with how the Sox look as spring training approaches.

“There was a lot of different ways it could go,’’ he said. “Now that it has evolved the way it has, we feel pretty darn good about it. I’m not going to say we’re a perfect team; we’re not. I’m not going say we’re guaranteed to win 95 games and make the playoffs. It doesn’t work that way.’’

Epstein acknowledged that the lineup could need an offensive boost given the loss of Jason Bay. But for now, that move is on hold.

“If it turns out that’s the one area of the club that can use improvement, we’re certainly open to doing something in the middle of the year,’’ he said.

“The last two trading deadlines, we’ve been able to acquire Jason Bay and Victor Martinez.

“I believe it’s easier to acquire a quality bat in-season than it is a top-of-the-rotation-type starter.’’

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