January 2011

Texas to sign Adrian Beltre. Yo.

He’s 31 years old.  He’s coming off a great season but with a less-than-perfect track record.  And yet, with the help of Scott Boras, he’s capitalized on that standout 2010 and landed seven years at massive money.

Yes, seven.  Not six.  

Jayson Werth, that is.

Giving Adrian Beltre six years (the final of which may be voidable based on workload) is a lot.  Giving him $16 million per year over that term is a lot.  But Werth is getting an added year.  And while his first two seasons in Washington will come in under $16 million, and the third will pay that exact amount, he’ll be paid $20 million or more in years four, five, six, and seven – seasons in which he’ll turn 35, 36, 37, and 38 in the spring.

The point is not that Beltre should be viewed as a bargain.  He’s not.  But landing one of the top free agents on a given winter’s market never is.  It’s the cost of doing business at that level, and I think we can all at least feel good that the baseball operations department in Texas gets a green light from ownership to play in that ballpark these days, if it makes baseball sense.

Werth will make $18 million a year on a deal that takes him through age 38.  Carl Crawford, much of whose game is predicated on speed, will make slightly more than $20 million a year through age 36.  Torii Hunter is three years into a five-year deal paying him $18 million a year through age 37.  

If Hunter’s contract prevented the Angels from going beyond their rumored offer of five years and $70 million to Beltre, could Beltre’s deal hinder efforts to lock Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz up long-term?  The Rangers said offering Cliff Lee $23 million per year wouldn’t upset the plan to keep this team’s core together, so we have to assume that $16 million per year shouldn’t be an impediment in that regard, either.

Reportedly, the sixth year of the deal (which should be made official today, assuming last night’s physical raised no issues) is voidable by Texas should Beltre not reach specified plate appearance totals in either 2015 or 2014 and 2015 combined (not unlike the final year of Kevin Millwood’s five-year pact with Texas, which could have been voided by the club if he’d failed to pitch 180 innings in 2009, or 360 innings in 2008-09, or 540 innings in 2007-09).

Is Beltre a good bet to stay healthy and sustain his productivity into his mid-30s?  No less so than a frontline starting pitcher at a similar age.  Texas was more intent on adding one of those this winter, but unable to do so, the club went another direction, which in its own way should give a boost to the pitching staff.

Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan said in the aftermath of the World Series that their primary objective this off-season was to put together a stronger roster going into spring training than they had in 2010.  With the loss of Lee and the refusal to meet whatever Kansas City’s demands were for Zack Greinke, the hope is that Brandon Webb can help provide a rotation upgrade compared to the one Texas broke camp with last year.  But it certainly can’t be expected to measure up to the starting five the club finished the season with.

Another way, however, to improve your pitching is to make the defense better, something the Rangers have done a good job of the last couple years and are doing once again with the addition of Beltre, one of the best third basemen in baseball.  Texas may now have the best left side of the infield anywhere, and one of the elite defenses in the game across the board.  

There have been and will be talk show segments about Beltre’s idiosyncracies (foreheads and cups and right knees and check swings), but his makeup isn’t an issue (A.J. Preller and Don Welke should know his character well from their Dodger days), and in fact he’s thought of as a guy who plays hard, and plays hurt.  On a team full of gamers, he should fit in well – particularly with Michael Young sending the message to his teammates that he did, offering to move off of third base to make room for Beltre.

Much is made of Beltre’s two biggest seasons at the plate coming in 2004 and 2010 – both contract years – but there’s some myth to the argument that suggests that he steps things up when he’s playing for a deal and recedes otherwise.

1.    Beltre’s worst season, convincingly, was in 2009, when his five-year pact with Seattle was coming to an end and he was playing for a second mega-contract.  He hit only .265/.304/.379, a level of productivity not far from what Andres Blanco gave Texas in 2010.  It forced Beltre to opt last winter for a one-year deal (with Boston) rather than lock up on a long-term, “buy low” deal with someone.

2.    As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs points out, Beltre was playing for arbitration money in 2002 and 2003, and in each case he had a relatively disappointing season.

3.    Yes, Beltre’s offense in 2004 (.334/.388/.629 for the Dodgers, league-leading 48 home runs, second-place MVP finish) and 2010 (.321/.365/.553 for the Red Sox, league-leading 49 doubles, 28 home runs, top five finish in the league in batting average, slug, OPS, and total bases) was sensational, but Cameron correctly notes that “they are the last two seasons in which he was not spending half of his games hitting in Safeco Field.  Besides perhaps San Diego, there is no place in baseball more difficult for a right-handed pull power hitter than Seattle.”  

4.    During Beltre’s five years as a Mariner, he hit .254/.307/.410 at home, and .277/.326/.472 on the road.  For every 150 road games in that span, he averaged 69 extra-base hits.  For every 150 at home, he had only 49.

5.    Beltre is a career .275/.328/.462 hitter.  Take away his 1,406 at-bats in Seattle, and his lifetime slash is .280/.334/.476.

The bigger drag on Beltre’s numbers has not been the lack of contractual urgency, but the confines in which he played his home games.

To take that point a step further: While Beltre’s lifetime .716 OPS in Safeco Field is his second-lowest among all American League ballparks, his .857 OPS (.306/.336/.521) in Rangers Ballpark is his third-highest in the AL.

Another good sign: Beltre swung and missed at the lowest rate of his career in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Angels – thought by more than one national writer to be poised this winter to sign Beltre and Crawford and Rafael Soriano – were ultimately outbid on Beltre not only by Texas but also, according to Peter Gammons, by Oakland, which reportedly offered him six years and $76 million.  It could be that Los Angeles reaches out now to Vladimir Guerrero to fill its DH slot, but there’s some sentiment that the club may be more interested in an outfield bat that would allow them to give Juan Rivera or Bobby Abreu more time at DH.  But at third base, the club sports the offensively underwhelming troika of Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, and Brandon Wood, while the team it’s chasing now has Beltre . . .

. . . might be in on Soriano (according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times) (though perhaps that’s a Rangers effort to make sure the Angels have to overpay for the Scott Boras client) . . .

. . . and has no need, it would appear, for Guerrero.  Young settles in as the Rangers’ primary DH (though Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, for one, doesn’t rule out the possibility that he could still be traded), and he’s expected to see time all ove
r the infield as well.  Gammons suggests that Young could show up in the outfield as well, something he did in college and in one game for Class A Hagerstown in the Toronto system as a second-year pro, but I wouldn’t count on that.  

Young might not fit the same classic DH profile that Guerrero did, but of course neither did Guerrero down the stretch in 2010.  Big Bad hit .278/.322/.426 in the second half.  Young hit .284/.330/.444 for the season.  Young’s post-season slash was a lackluster .254/.275/.343.  Guerrero’s was an abysmal .220/.242/.271.

That makes this as good a place as any to shoehorn this in: Beltre’s career first-half OPS is .755.  Second half: .830.  

There will be Angels fans who claim their club avoided a bad contract by not meeting Beltre’s demands, but make no mistake: it’s been a bad off-season so far for Los Angeles.  (Even if they did sign good guy catcher Kevin Richardson to a minor league contract.)

As Morosi put it: “Beltre is going to help the Rangers.  But he could have transformed the Angels.”

Texas, which added 2011 draft picks at number 33 and 37 overall as compensation for the loss of Lee, will forfeit the number 26 pick (its own) to Boston with the signing of Beltre.

Another player will have to come off of the 40-man roster to accommodate Beltre’s addition.  Righthander Guillermo Moscoso would seem to be the top candidate for removal.

A writer who I respect a ton and who has seen Beltre play as much as anyone else the past six years told me that Beltre’s makeup is “off-the-charts awesome . . . teammates love him” and added this: “You’ll love him – love him.  He’s so much fun to watch on a daily basis, and way better than people realize.”   

I have no doubt about that, defensively.  The bat doesn’t need to come through at 2004 or 2010 levels for Beltre to be a significant asset.  He’s here for five years, possibly six, a good bet to hold down the hot corner and alleviate concerns that the organization had no clear answer coming up from the farm the next couple years.

Would I have preferred that the Rangers were set to go into camp with Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero rather than Brandon Webb and Adrian Beltre?  Of course.  Texas would have preferred it, too.  But that didn’t work out.

Still, the Rangers’ roster is getting stronger today.

And if they really are in on Soriano, with the idea being he steps into the ninth inning and Neftali Feliz moves to the rotation?  

That’s talk for another time, speculation that can be set aside on a day that will include a major press conference in Arlington.

It will be a little strange seeing Beltre jogging out to third base on April 1, not in Red Sox gray but in Rangers red, with Young staying in the dugout until the home half, but it’s something we ought to get used to, considering Beltre is now locked in for a longer term than anyone in the organization, the only player Texas has under contract in 2014, 2015, or 2016, and he’ll be counted on those years, and the ones before it, to help make the Rangers’ pitching better, in lieu (at the moment) of another arm to put at the top of the club’s rotation.

Sacrifice. Leader.

Sometimes there’s a fine line, if any line at all, between news and gossip, between fire and smoke, between what belongs in a COFFEY and what warrants a report.  

On Sunday I set up an alert for Adrian Beltre updates, and despite the lack of any concrete developments the thing has metastasized with such ferocity that I think I disabled the iPhone alarm function worldwide.  

This morning I woke up to 234 new Beltre updates that had landed since I went to sleep.  I’m not going to read any of them, because my Google Reader has no real news to report, and because the day job beckons.  

But there is news of a sort, as Michael Young apparently told the Rangers over the weekend and then the local press last night that he’s willing to move off of third base and into a DH role that would also involve occasional relief duties around the infield.  Mark DeRosa, if you want to imagine a former Young teammate.  Paul Molitor, if you want to think bigger about the path Young’s career is on.

Jim Sundberg is the Rangers’ franchise leader in sacrifice bunts and Ruben Sierra leads it in career sacrifice flies, but Michael Young – say what you will about his competence defensively and whether this voluntary move was prescribed (and when) with his blessing or without it – is its leader in sacrifices, and its leader in being a leader.  

I don’t know if Beltre will end up signing here (though one local report this morning describes a Monday night “sense of optimism that a deal would be reached”), but now it appears the primary and perhaps only hurdle to clear is an acceptable set of years and dollars, and not the potential disruption (probably an understatement) in the clubhouse if Young were to be stripped of his glove against his wishes, or traded.

Young’s fierce pride, his John Locke-esque “Don’t tell me what I can’t do” attitude, sets a tone that fires this team.  He’s a pro’s pro, this franchise’s Roger Staubach, its Troy Aikman, a man who leads because he’s supposed to, not because he insists on it.  

Is there still a direction that this story could take that would lead Young to request a trade, or at least express an openness to it?  Sure, I guess.  But for now he’s put the team ahead of his pride as a ballplayer, a gesture of sacrifice that gives us one more reason to be thankful that, regardless of his role on the field, Young remains the Rangers’ most important man in uniform off of it.  

Michael Young willing to DH.

The implications of
this whole Adrian Beltre/Michael Young thing already had my head ready to
explode the last two days, and now there’s this, in the last few minutes from
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News
:

 

Rangers
infielder Michael Young said Monday night he is willing to move positions for the
second time in three years and the third time since 2004 if it helps the
Rangers land Adrian Beltre.

 

Upon
returning from a 10-day trip to California, Young acknowledged that Rangers
officials reached out to him in the last couple of days to ask him about moving
to DH if the club landed Beltre.

 

“I’ll
do what I have to do to stay on this team,” Young said.  “I’m happy to be here and proud to be part of
this team.  I want to stay a part of it.  If it means getting the bulk of my at-bats as
the DH, then that’s what I’ll do.”

 

The
Rangers have proposed to Young the possibility of moving into a DH/super
utility player role that would allow the club to get Beltre, while also
allowing him to play several infield positions in addition to DH duties.  Young began his major league career with three
years at second, then spent five years at short and the last two at third.  He is the only player in history to start at
least 130 games in a season at second, third and short.

 

MLB.com’s T.R.
Sullivan
has weighed in as well (noting “Young’s willingness to accommodate
the team could pave the way for a deal for Beltre”), as have Jeff
Wilson
(Young: “My motivation is to play for a winning team and to be
extremely productive.  And I want to do
that with the Rangers.”) and Richard
Durrett
(Young: “I want to do what’s best for a winning team.  That’s always been the case and it always
will be.  I’m willing to do what I need
to do to help this team.”).

 

It’s never boring with this team.

Prospects for a Happy New Year.

The book’s only been out for two weeks but we’ve fired well past our previous record for sales of the Newberg Report Bound Edition, which of course has everything to do with the memorable, sometimes crazy, truly great season the Rangers had.  I thank you for buying the book, the 12th one I’ve done and by far the easiest story to tell.

Congratulations to Jason Parks, the best of the blue-chip bloggers that this market has, for getting The Call to the big leagues.  To say it’s well deserved is not enough.  It’s about time.

Finally, the annual Newberg Report plate of black-eyed peas – our own little oddly disconnected tradition – my current ranking of the top 72 Rangers prospects, as laid out (with detailed commentary on each player) in the book (which went to print, incidentally, shortly before Texas signed righthander Barret Loux or shortstop Alberto Triunfel):  

1.    Martin Perez, LHP
2.    Tanner Scheppers, RHP
3.    Jurickson Profar, SS
4.    Engel Beltre, OF
5.    Robbie Erlin, LHP
6.    Michael Kirkman, LHP
7.    Luis Sardinas, SS
8.    Robbie Ross, LHP
9.    David Perez, RHP
10.    Wilmer Font, RHP
11.    Jake Skole, OF
12.    Jorge Alfaro, C
13.    Fabio Castillo, RHP
14.    Joe Wieland, RHP
15.    Matt Thompson, RHP
16.    Luke Jackson, RHP
17.    Christian Villanueva, 3B
18.    Miguel De Los Santos, LHP
19.    Mike Olt, 3B
20.    Omar Beltre, RHP
21.    Roman Mendez, RHP
22.    Leury Garcia, SS
23.    Miguel Velazquez, OF
24.    Eric Hurley, RHP
25.    Pedro Strop, RHP
26.    Kellin Deglan, C
27.    Jared Hoying, OF
28.    Cody Buckel, RHP
29.    Hanser Alberto, SS
30.    Neil Ramirez, RHP
31.    Tomas Telis, C
32.    Zach Phillips, LHP
33.    Justin Grimm, RHP
34.    Teodoro Martinez, OF
35.    Drew Robinson, IF-OF
36.    Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
37.    Odubel Herrera, 2B-SS
38.    Jake Brigham, RHP
39.    Craig Gentry, OF
40.    Cody Eppley, RHP
41.    Jose Felix, C
42.    Chad Bell, LHP
43.    Carlos Pimentel, RHP
44.    Tommy Mendonca, 3B
45.    Chris McGuiness, 1B
46.    Kennil Gomez, RHP
47.    Corey Young, LHP
48.    Chad Tracy, 1B
49.    Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
50.    Kasey Kiker, LHP
51.    Richard Alvarez, RHP
52.    Josh Richmond, OF
53.    Ovispo De Los Santos, RHP
54.    Carlos Melo, RHP
55.    Jordan Akins, OF
56.    Trevor Hurley, RHP
57.    Leonel De Los Santos, C
58.    Danny Gutierrez, RHP
59.    Geuris Grullon, LHP
60.    Chris Hanna, LHP
61.    Jimmy Reyes, LHP
62.    Marcus Lemon, 2B-OF
63.    Ruben Sierra Jr., OF
64.    Randol Rojas, RHP
65.    Ryan Strausborger, OF
66.    Cristian Santana, OF
67.    Shawn Blackwell, RHP
68.    Mark Hamburger, RHP
69.    David Paisano, OF
70.    Joseph Ortiz, LHP
71.    Tyler Tufts, RHP
72.    Beau Jones, LHP
?
Hope your 2010 was excellent.  Best wishes for an even better 2011 for you, your family, and your baseball team.

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