Wednesday, November 17, 2010

By Jonathan Northrop, Contributor

It is Hot Stove season and the trade rumors are circulating like text messages in Gossip Girl. One recent rumor, from Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman’s Twitter page, is that Adrian Beltre (that is, Scott Boras) is using Torii Hunter’s 5 year, $90M contract as a benchmark for what his expectations are. We’re talking about a 13-year veteran that has had two—yes, two—seasons with an OPS+ above 115. They were truly remarkable seasons, especially 2004 when he hit a Triple Crown-worthy .334-48-121 with a 163 OPS+ that led to his (over-priced) Seattle contract, but he’s only been a star-caliber player for two of thirteen years (or twelve full seasons).

Let’s take a look at Beltre’s Adjusted OPS numbers, from highest to lowest, and excluding his 1998 season, when the 19-year old had only 214 PA (remember, 100 is average):

163, 141, 114, 112, 108, 105, 101, 98, 97, 93, 88, 83.

What do you see there? Let’s take out the outliers—the two best seasons, which any person with a minimal knowledge of mathematics would tell you stick out like a sore thumb; you then have a player who has averaged an OPS+ of 99.9, that is, has been dead average. In other words, if you take out Beltre’s two best seasons—that have five seasons between them—you have an average hitter, with very good (but declining) defense.

5 years, $90 million? Are you kidding me?!

Even outside of his best seasons, Beltre is a solid player. He hits around .270/.320/.460 with 25 HR and excellent defense at a position that the Angels have struggled with since Troy Glaus left. But let’s be real, here: Adrian Beltre has been an average hitter for over 85% of his career, and at 32-years old next year is declining defensively. Would you guarantee an average hitter with declining third base defense $90M—or even half that much—for the next five years? Especially when you have a player with a similar skill set approximately two years away in Luis Jimenez, and a highly talented Kaleb Cowart a year or so behind? It is, or should be, a rhetorical question.

The case against Adrian Beltre is easy, and was made above. The case for him is harder, and is only really possible if at least two of the three happen: 1) Beltre is given a three-year contract, B) he isn’t offered more than $10-12M a year, and C) he continues at a level somewhat close to 2010’s performance.

None of the three will happen. Beltre will be given at least four years, will make at least $14M a year, and will not be as good as 2010. One could also argue that the Angels have no good options and there are no guarantees that Jimenez or Cowart will even make it to the major leagues. True enough. But the Angels could do worse than to see if Alberto Callaspo can recapture his 2009/early-2010 bat that produced an .800 OPS, or give Brandon Wood—who has played very well in the Arizona Fall League—one more chance (just one more!). If neither pans out then you have Maicer Izturis, or even Freddy Sandoval, to hold down the hot corner until 2012.

But no matter how problematic the third base position is for the Angels, there is no case to give Beltre the $15-18M at 4-5 years that he is looking for, and probably will get. He is not worth the money, or would it be wise to tie up the payroll with another over-priced contract.

Need I say more? There is no case for Adrian Beltre.
Love to hear what you think!

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