In his last contract year, Adrian Beltre hit .334/.388/.629 with 48 home runs and 121 RBI for the Dodgers, finishing second in the National League MVP voting. He ventured into free agency for the first time that following winter as a 25-year-old third baseman with elite defense and a 794 career OPS coming off a breakout year. After flirting with numerous clubs, he ultimately signed a five-year deal with the Mariners worth $64 million.
Beltre's five years in Seattle were a let-down. He never came close to approaching that amazing final season in Los Angeles, topping out at 26 homers while failing to bat better than .276 or slug better than .482 during his tenure with the M's. This past season was his last before again becoming eligible for free agency, and it was a far cry from his walk year with the Dodgers. Beltre posted a 683 OPS -- his lowest figure since he played in 77 games for the Dodgers as a 19-year-old back in 1998 -- in a season that was marred by injuries, including one of the most cringe-inducing I've ever heard of.
And so, Beltre enters free agency for the second time this winter under vastly different circumstances than his first forray into the open market. He's got much to prove after seeing his production decline dramatically this past year, but he remained a quality player during his first four seasons in Seattle and some team will likely pay a relatively high price to see if he can regain that form -- or perhaps show some semblance of the ability that he flashed during that final season in LA. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors recently predicted that that team would be the Twins.
The thought is fairly tantalizing. In Beltre and J.J. Hardy, the Twins would boast a tremendous defensive left side of the infield capable of combining for 50 home runs. Beltre's 14.3 UZR in '09 suggests that his defense did not slide along with his offense. Like Hardy, Belte's right-handed stick would play well in the Twins' lefty-heavy lineup and there's plenty of reason to believe that his offensive production will increase once he escapes the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco (he consistently hit better on the road than at home during his time with the Mariners).
If he's back to full health and effectiveness, Beltre would be a perfect fit for the Twins. But finding out whether he'll be able to return to that level is a risk -- even beyond the aforementioned gruesome injury, he has undergone surgery on both his shoulder (twice) and thumb within the past year -- and it won't be a cheap one at that. Beltre is still only 30 years old and with his pedigree of hitting for power while playing outstanding defense at the hot corner, he's bound to draw numerous suitors on the free agent market, especially considering that his tough '09 campaign knocked his free agent status down to Type B. Bill Smith has already taken a rather significant gamble by investing on a player coming off a down year in Hardy; is he willing to do so again by trying to outbid other clubs for Beltre?
My guess is no. I doubt the Twins really even have the money available to make a legitimate offer on Beltre, especially considering their professed need for help in the rotation. But I think he'd be an excellent final piece to the infield equation, adding another dynamic right-handed bat to the lineup while rounding out an exquisite defensive infield by allowing Nick Punto to slide over to second and to the ninth spot in the lineup. Sure, the signing would carry some risk, but Smith has shown no aversion to taking gambles thus far and the upside of a Hardy/Beltre pairing on the left side would easily outweigh the potential downside of such a move.