Posted by Connor Tapp on October 8th, 2009
Yesterday, as a supplement to advocating that Chipper Jones be moved to first base, I suggested that the Braves should make an effort to sign free-agent-to-be Adrian Beltre as their third baseman for 2010. I say “should make an effort to sign” rather than “should sign” for a number of reasons.
First, Beltre is represented by Scott Boras. Second, Beltre has suffered myriad injuries (mostly to the shoulder) over the past two seasons. Third, Beltre will be 31 at the beginning of next season, so any long-term contract would involve a significant investment in the decline phase of his career. A one-year, “show me” contract would be ideal.
But an investment in Beltre would also involve a great deal of upside. First, let’s talk about what we know Adrian Beltre is – namely, one of the best defensive third baseman in the major leagues. Despite missing 51 games in 2009, he prevented 21 fielding runs above average, fourth-best in MLB.
Naturally, pitching staffs that force opposing batters to hit ground balls and line drives are going to benefit most from having superb infield defense. As it turns out, the Braves induce more ground balls than most – 47% of all balls put in play, 4th most in MLB. (It might be worth noting that this percentage will likely rise in 2010 if Tim Hudson is in the rotation for the entire year.)
It’s with Beltre’s bat where you’re taking a big risk. A few shoulder surgeries have sapped Adrian’s power over the past two seasons, and it’s starting to look less and less like he will recapture any semblance of his 2004 form. But it’s also likely that Safeco Field is masking Beltre’s true offensive ability (see: Ibanez, Raul).
On balance, I think Beltre’s consecutive disappointing seasons in 2008 and 2009 might make him a nice bargain this offseason. You certainly shouldn’t expect ’04 Beltre, but anything near ’06-’07 Beltre would do just fine.
(Pedro Feliz would be a plausible alternative but offers much less offensive upside.)