A defensive whiz at third base with home run pop, it should come as no surprise that Adrian Beltre would appeal to the Red Sox, not to mention numerous other teams.
But now that the ex-Dodger and Mariner officially calls Fenway Park his baseball home — he was introduced during a press conference this morning at the ballpark — general manager Theo Epstein took a moment to reveal just how long the club has coveted the 31-year-old. And how they actually once considered signing him to play shortstop.
“Early in the winter, we talked to Scott [Boras, Beltre’s agent] and told him we thought it was a good fit,” said Epstein. “We agreed to stay in touch throughout the winter and then markets develop and things picked up after the winter meetings.
“But our interest in Adrian goes way back to his time with the Dodgers,” said Epstein. “There were discussions back then about a four-player trade that never materialized. When Adrian hit free agency for the first time [after a 2004 season with the Dodgers in which he had a career-year with a.334 average and 48 home runs], we had interest then and actually considered trying to sign him and play him at shortstop for a year and then moving to third. He ended up going to Seattle [on a five-year deal]. So we’re very happy that this ended up working out.”
Beltre, who signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Sox with a player option for $5 million in 2011 and a $1 million buyout, confirmed that he had multi-year offers elsewhere. Oakland, which also lost out on Marco Scutaro to the Red Sox, was reportedly one strong suitor.
“It’s true I had many multi-year offers, but I made the decision to end up coming here to join a team that has a legitimate chance to get to and win the World Series,” said Beltre, who will wear No. 29. “You know, I’ve been in the big leagues for 11 years, and I’ve only been in the playoffs once. . . . I think this team is built to win and the decision that I made, I’m really happy about it.”
Beltre was plagued by a shoulder injury last season, and it appeared to affect his production. After hitting at least 25 home runs each season from 2006-08, he fell to eight homers last year.
He will take over at third base for another player who battled injury issues last year. Mike Lowell, who spent four seasons with the Sox, is likely to be traded once he recovers from thumb surgery. Beltre said today that he is entirely healthy and looking forward to proving it this season.
“Obviously, I passed the physical,” Beltre said with a smile. “I’m good. My health is good, and I’m really excited to come out and prove I’m healthy.”
Beltre is universally regarded as an elite defensive player, both by scouts and statistical measures. Rays manager Joe Madden said recently that Beltre is the best defender at third base he has ever seen.
“I work hard and take pride in my defense,” said the two-time Gold Glove winner, who did note he’d also like to be recognized for his offensive skills. “It’s part of my game, and I’m proud of every part of my game.”
Epstein said that Beltre’s otherworldly glove a significant part of his appeal, but not the sole reason the Red Sox — who have emphasized run prevention this offseason — pursued him.
“I think Adrian’s reputation is that of one of the best defenders in the game, period, not just as a third baseman,” Epstein said. “He’s got all the attributes you look for in a third baseman. He has quickness, great hands, a great arm and a very quick release. His signature play is coming in on balls, something he does maybe as well as anyone who’s ever played the game.
“He’s a weapon defensively and I’m looking forward to him helping our run prevention,” Epstein added. “But as Adrian said, he’s not just a defender. He’s got the ability to be a very well-rounded player as well as a leader on the team, and I’m looking forward to having him help our club win in all phases of the game.”
Beltre, a .270 lifetime hitter with 250 home runs in 12 seasons — he debuted at age 19 with the Dodgers in 1998 — said he is looking forward to playing at Fenway after spending the past five years playing his home games at Safeco Field, where long drives to left field often find their way into an outfielder’s mitt.
“I really love Fenway, and I think some flyb alls that I hit in Safeco might be a double here, it’s a little more forgiving,” said the righthanded-hitting Beltre, who as a visitor actually hasn’t had much success at Fenway, batting .208 with six home runs in 176 plate appearances.
Boras, who said during the Winter Meetings that Beltre compared favorably in terms of value to Jason Bay, the former Red Sox slugger who signed a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets, suggested he had no problem with his client accepting what is essentially a one-year deal.
“You don’t often see clubs offering three-year deals to players coming off an injury season,” said Scott Boras, who joined Beltre and Epstein on the dais. “But there were as many as four teams interested in [offering him] that, so it says a little about his skills.”
Boras lauded the Red Sox for recognizing Beltre’s value beyond the raw numbers.
“Boston has always had an understanding of who Adrian is as a player, and that’s something we’ve always agreed upon. We also felt that the metrics of the ballpark and where Adrian is at in his career . . . coming to the East Coast, it was a comfortable time for the Beltre family to do this, and there’s his desire to win. So it’s really something where Adrian has been very successful at a young age, economically he can afford to turn down guaranteed money to come here on a one-year situation.
“I think we’ve built a great stage here and there’s a chance for this rocket to take off.”