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Taking a closer look at Beltre

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  January 4, 2010 08:30 PM

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Some fans will look at Adrian Beltre's 2009 season and dismiss him. He hit .265 with eight home runs and 44 RBI. His on-base percentage of .304 was atrocious.

But Beltre spent the first half the the season playing with bone spurs that did not allow him to lift his left shoulder higher without a pain he described as akin to being stabbed with a knife. After undergoing surgery in June, he missed time later in the season when he took a bad hop in a place where you don't want to take a bad hop.

We pause here to wince.

Beltre also had the misfortune of playing his home games at Safeco Field. By any measure -- statistically or anecdotally -- Safeco's dimensions restrict the production of right-handed hitters.

Consider how Beltre fared from 2005-09 with the Mariners:

Home (353 games): 347-1,367 (.254), 116 extra-base hits, 174 RBI

Road (362 games): 404-1,456 (.277), 167 extra-base hits, 222 RBI

A 23-point difference in batting average and those power numbers suggest Beltre will be a far more productive player at the plate by the simple fact of playing 81 games at Fenway Park. For a pull-conscious right-handed hitter, Fenway is a much better fit.

Defensively, Beltre is not merely a good third baseman. He is one of the two or three best in the game. Outside of possibly Evan Longoria, I'm not sure there is a better third baseman in the American League. Beltre is a guy with tremendous reactions, a strong arm and an amazing ability to come in on slow rollers and make a play.

He is a player who will actively prevent runs from being scored. With Beltre, Marco Scutaro, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox have four legitimate Gold Glove candidates in their infield backing up a strong rotation. That is a far more consistent and predictable way to win games than loading up on offense.

At the Winter Meetings, Scott Boras was suggesting that Beltre merited a four-year deal worth $50 million. It's the job of an agent to try and inflate the value of his client. In the end, Boras settled on a deal that, at most, will cost the Sox $14 million over two years. Give Boras credit, he made the case in Indianapolis that Beltre was a good fit in Boston. The Sox waited, let the price fall and made a smart deal.

But Boras is as forward-thinking as the Red Sox. If Beltre stays healthy and mashes for a contender, he can go back into the market next winter at the age of 31. This deal could benefit him greatly in the long term.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are committed to two years at the most. That gives them flexibility to work in prospects going forward and the $14 commitment does not preclude them being as active as they want next winter in a loaded free-agent market.

This is a win/win deal. The Sox can hit Beltre sixth behind David Ortiz and push down Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew a little bit more, giving them greater balance.

If you find advanced statistics compelling, read this well-timed post from Baseball Daily Digest about Beltre. He is projected to play to a 3.1 WAR next season. That is Wins Above Replacement, a metric that determines a player's value at the plate and in the field. Their take is that he brings tremendous value and that was before this deal was struck.

We can argue the merits of who they signed, but nobody can deny the Red Sox are making an effort and spending money. They went out and signed Beltre, Cameron and Lackey, traded for Jeremy Hermida and added some draft picks along the way. They also got younger and more athletic.

Many folks are e-mailing that Mike Lowell could still be a DH. That is possible. But it's far more likely they trade him and try and save $2 or $3 million.

Outside of a few bench/bullpen types, it appears the 2010 Sox are assembled. Pack up he truck. 

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