The Value of Adrian Beltre
Now that the season is effectively over, we can turn our attention from the daily matchups of the next game to bigger picture analysis. Today’s subject: Adrian Beltre.
Longtime readers will know that we’ve never hid our affection for Beltre. During the run-up to the 2004 offseason, I threw my entire support behind signing Beltre, and called the deal “a stunning accomplishment” for the Mariners. We were all optimistic about Beltre’s performance heading into the 2005 season.
Obviously, that first year was rough. He couldn’t have started his Mariner career any worse. His first two months in Seattle, he received 199 at-bats and hit a staggeringly terrible .236/.264/.357. Since most of baseball was already convinced that his 2004 season was a massive fluke, the early struggles simply fit into the already written narrative about a bad player who had a contract year and was now one of the worst free agent signings in baseball history. The story of the Adrian Beltre contract was written two months into a five year deal, and in general, the national perception of the contract hasn’t changed much at all, as Beltre is often referred to as overpaid or disappointing. MLB.tv users will remember the last Rangers series in Texas for Tom Grieve’s constant whipping of Beltre in particular.
Well, that story was wrong then and it’s wrong now. The only better third baseman in the American League is some guy named Rodriguez who is running away with the MVP award and is already practicing his hall of fame induction speach. The only Mariner players who helps puts wins on the board with more regularity are Ichiro and J.J. Putz, and they both can lay a claim to being the best in baseball at their respective positions.
Adrian Beltre is a star, an underrated asset whose remaining two years on his contract are nothing short of a bargain. Don’t believe me? Look at the 2006 performances, and the contracts signed, by four very similar hitters during the last year:
Aramis Ramirez: .291/.352/.561, 126 OPS+, $15 million a year for 5 years
Alfonso Soriano: .277/.351/.560, 132 OPS+, $18 million per year for 7 years
Carlos Lee: .300/.355/.540, 125 OPS+, $16 million per year for 6 years
Vernon Wells: .303/.357/.542, 126 OPS+, $18 million per year for 7 years
The market value seems pretty clear – the .300 hitter with power skillset, usually providing offense that is about 20 percent above league average, has been valued at between $15-$18 million per season for 5-7 years. Let’s look at how those guys are performing this year.
Aramis Ramirez: .315/.370/.539, 129 OPS+
Alfonso Soriano: .295/.332/.529, 116 OPS+
Carlos Lee: .298/.353/.519, 121 OPS+
Vernon Wells: .251/.307/.418, 87 OPS+
Besides Wells, they’re all performing right in line with expectations, showing the same basic skillset and performance level that their teams thought they were getting when they gave them long term, big money contracts.
Now, take a look at Adrian Beltre’s 2007 line: .283/.331/.503, 122 OPS+
The raw numbers are a little bit lower, but that’s Safeco Field for you. At home, Beltre’s hitting .270/.332/.430, but away from Safeco, it’s .295/.330/.567. From an offensive production standpoint, 2007 Beltre is basically indistringuishable from Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano, or Aramis Ramirez, and he’s several notches ahead of Vernon Wells.
And that’s not even getting into the non-offense values. There’s the defense, which is obviously a significant factor in Beltre’s favor. There’s the health – he hasn’t missed any real time due to injury in six years. And, to top it off, he has age on his side as he doesn’t turn 29 until after opening day next year.
What would a 28-year-old with Beltre’s performance record command as a free agent this winter? Not even accounting for possible inflation, it’s almost impossible to believe that Beltre would do significantly worse than last year’s crop of similar hitters. $15 million a year for 5 years would be the starting spot for negotiations, and it’s not hard to see him getting into the 6 years, $100 million range that Carlos Lee ended up receiving.
The Mariners should be extremely happy to have Adrian Beltre already under contract for the next two years at the relative pittance of just $24 million dollars. He’s a terrific player, one of the best third baseman in baseball, and despite what the national media may tell you, he’s underpaid relative to his market value.