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Lo Adrian: Beltre’s been great

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 1, 2010

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Cha-ching. Cha-ching.

That’s the sound of Adrian Beltre’s future earnings piling up, just like his agent, Scott Boras, said they would.

It’s not like Beltre will need the dough, because he’s already made more money than he’ll ever need, and even the $9 million he’ll make this season with the Red Sox is more than enough.

But when the third baseman signed with Boston, the reasons were 1) to play on a good team; and 2) to have a good season after a few down ones in Seattle. That way he again could go out into free agency and earn another healthy multi-year deal like the five-year, $64 million contract he received from the Mariners when he left the Dodgers after the 2004 season.

Who knows, maybe he’ll continue to love Boston so much he’ll want to pick up his player option of $5 million, which could bump up to $10 million if he makes 640 plate appearances, which he probably will . . . OK, fat chance of that.

One has to love the way Beltre plays — 100 miles per hour all the time, to the point where he’s fractured 10 ribs of two outfielders, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jeremy Hermida, who are both on the disabled list.

Beltre’s hitting has been incredibly consistent and productive. After going 1 for 3 in last night’s 9-4 loss to the Rays at Fenway Park, he is hitting .349. That was after going 4 for 4 Tuesday night against the Rays. Beltre has 12 homers and 53 RBIs and is likely on his way to Anaheim, Calif., for the All-Star Game.

The only strange thing is his Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde defense.

Beltre will make some of the best plays you’ll ever see and then he’ll throw away a ball.

During a game in the series in Denver last week he threw away a Seth Smith grounder, which was ruled an infield hit and an error on a wide throw that pulled David Ortiz way off the bag.

In the next inning, in which Colorado scored six runs, Carlos Gonzalez reached on an infield hit on which Beltre made a strange soft overhand throw to Ortiz. Then Beltre made a very good over-the-shoulder catch on Brad Hawpe’s popup. He raced back as hard as he could as soon as Hawpe hit it, and was able to make the grab in short left.

Beltre has made 13 errors, and still has a ways to go before he reaches his major league high of 29 with the Dodgers in 1999.

He has cost the Sox runs at times during the season, but he’s also prevented them with his spectacular plays.

Beltre never wants a day off, and manager Terry Francona has mentioned that Beltre hates to see either Francona or bench coach DeMarlo Hale walk past him because he fears he’s going to be told to take a day off.

Even back in April when Beltre’s knee and groin were a little sore, he wanted no part of a day to rest. Francona made him take a day off in Baltimore after his collision with Hermida, but Beltre initially resisted. During interleague play against Colorado and San Francisco, Beltre had to sit a couple of games so Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis could get their share of playing time with no designated hitter.

Beltre has a good shot at being named to the AL All-Star team.

While Tampa’s Evan Longoria will get the nod from the fans, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez hasn’t had as good a year as Beltre and he’ll likely need the time off to rest his hip. The Rangers’ Michael Young is another candidate.

For all we know, the Sox may have Beltre’s long-term plans all mapped out, as they may with catcher Victor Martinez, who will be a free agent. But there’s a lot to think about in possibly re-signing him. Beltre is 31 years old. That’s not old by any measure for a third baseman, but the Sox certainly don’t want a Mike Lowell situation in which they’re basically eating the final year of a contract.

Boras advised Beltre to sign with Boston knowing that playing in Fenway Park and with a good supporting cast he could have a good season and re-sign with the Sox, or have multiple suitors as a free agent.

Productive third basemen don’t exactly grow on trees. Entering last night’s game Beltre led all players at the position with a .948 OPS. He led the AL with a .390 average with runners in scoring position. He was second in the majors in road average (.371). He also led the majors with a .336 average when there were two strikes on him.

He’s hit safely in 17 of 18 games.

Beltre entered the season with a definite plan.

Hitting coach Dave Magadan deserves some credit because from Day 1 he told Beltre he had to get back to the hitting mechanics he had when he hit 48 homers and drove in 121 runs with a .334 average with the Dodgers in 2004.

This is the best year he’s had since then. And while he likely won’t reach 48 homers, the rest of those stats are within reach.

Beltre has pretty much stuck to his approach during his Dodgers days — hit the ball to the middle or right side of the field. As he’s gotten more comfortable at the plate he’s now spraying the ball to all fields, hitting it where it’s pitched. He’s struck some tape-measure shots, a couple while falling to one knee.

While Boras was right about his decision to have Beltre sign with Boston, Sox general manager Theo Epstein and the baseball operations people were right in identifying him as a candidate to rebound and have a big year.

There was skepticism about the Red Sox’ thinking, but they identified Beltre as a player they’d like to take the chance on if the risk was low. The risk was very low. For, not only did the Sox have Lowell to fall back on, they read the player’s hunger to succeed, and got a short-term commitment to boot.

Cha-ching. Cha-ching.

The Red Sox may like the sound of a longer-term commitment as well.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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