Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Beltre the Final Infield Piece?

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.

27 comments:

Bryz said...

I remember the cup check injury, but forgot about the other surgeries. Maybe he isn't as good of an option as I previously thought.

Taye Povs said...

Forget about taking chances at 3B with FA's. Second base is a bigger need.

1) The 2B FA class this year is full of all kinds of goodies: Hudson, Polanco (inevitably), Lopez, DeRosa. And then several second tier as well: Belliard, Carroll, Uribe.

2) We have a replacement-level internal options available at 3B.

Valencia is waiting in the wings at 3B, and could/should be ready to play by the time Punto departs in the next offseason. Who knows, he could show he's ready to platoon with Punto in 2010, thereby gaining tempered and steady MLB exposure.

3) The Twins lack internal options at 2B for 2010 and beyond. And most of the 2B FA class this year can solidify a frequently abused two-hole in the lineup.

4) The 2011 FA 2B class is very, very thin. Ellis? Bloomquist? And oh, hey, look, we could buy out Punto's option and sign him up.

5) The time is now for 2B help. Deal with a weak bat at 3B in Punto, who can give us the luxury of letting Valencia get some big league at-bats in 2010.

6) On a final note. When Polanco becomes officially becomes available, and if the Twins were to be able to lock him up, they would have one of the best, if not THE best composite UZR between 2B and SS. Somethin' to salivate 'bout.

MC said...

I covet Polanco.

Beltre solves one problem, having a power righty at the backside of the line-up is like adding Crede. It's nice to have but the Defense is more important given the line-up they have today.

Thus, a #2 hitter is the larger gap. I think I read somewhere that Mauer had the fewest baserunners per PA on the Twins this year. Shudder the thought of Hardy or Punto filling that role and we know Gardy's aversion to moving the line-up up. Gotta force his hand and plug the hole Bill Smith.

I want a #2 hitter. Punto can bat 9th and play 3rd.

Anonymous said...

The Reds do wish to free up salary room. They are looking to trade Arroyo, Harang, and Brandon Phillips.

Phillips gives the Twins a RH power bat and good defensive ability. Phillips and Hardy in the middle infield would be amazing! As with Beltre, they could possibly combine to hit 50 homers as well.

I say trade Perkins, Delaney, and Casilla for Phillips (Twins taking salary). Then we re-sign Crede to a similar deal as last year, and then we go for the gold in Joe Mauer - 5 years, $95 Million. Any spare room left in the payroll can be devoted to a pitcher - Pavano.

This gives the Twins infield a powerful look and possibly would make the Twins infield the best in the league (second only to the Yanks, possibly). Morneau - 1B (30 Homers), Phillips - 2B (25 Homers), Hardy - SS (25 Homers), Crede/Punto - 3B (15-20 Homers/1 Homer), Mauer - C (20 Homers)...potential infield would possibly hit 110 Homers. Combine that with Cuddyer, Young, Span and Kubel and we have a team that could very well hit 180+ Homers this next year!

David said...

I would love to get Brandon Philips. Not sure what it would take to get him though. He will draw a lot of interest.

Nick N. said...

Phillips is owed $6.75M next year and $11M in 2011, plus he'd almost certainly exercise the mutual $12M option for 2012.

Not sure the Twins have enough payroll flexibility to take that contract on.

Anonymous said...

Nick -

If Mauer sees the team improving, will he not be more willing to stay in MN? Morneau said something to this effect as well. If Mauer is more willing to stay in MN, will he not take a home-town discount?

We sign Mauer to a 5 year, $95 M deal, that should leave the Twins some room to take on Phillips and send a minor contract Pavs way. With the gradual hikes in payroll that the Twins will experience since moving over to Target Field, (especially if they should go all the way in 2010), the Twins will have enough payroll for Phillips and Mauer.

@David:

Reds are solely interested in getting some of the payroll off their roster. Sending some cheap, but players with potential, over to Cincinnati would get the Reds to bite. I.E. Casilla (potential), Liriano/Perkins (certainly potential there), plus Delaney (some potential) should secure us Phillips and his contract.

Nick N. said...

We sign Mauer to a 5 year, $95 M deal, that should leave the Twins some room to take on Phillips and send a minor contract Pavs way. With the gradual hikes in payroll that the Twins will experience since moving over to Target Field, (especially if they should go all the way in 2010), the Twins will have enough payroll for Phillips and Mauer.

If the Twins were going to lock into an infielder for 3 yrs and $30M, I'd rather they brought in Beltre, who is in my mind likely to be a better player over the next three years. But I don't think they have that kind of money. Payroll is already up around $80M; adding Phillips and Pavano would push them well past $90M, and that's not even including a restructured contract for Mauer.

neckrolls said...

Nick,

The Twins don't need a 3B for 3 years. Danny Valencia (strangely absent from your post) already has 3 months of AAA under his belt. If his development pattern from the past 3 years continues in 2010, we can expect him to put up an OPS north of .850 in his first 60 games at Rochester, with a greatly improved BB rate. At that point, he's ready for a call-up. Even his translated stats from last season (according to Baseball Prospectus): .254/.310/.443 (AA) .268/.287/.446 (AAA) compare pretty favorably with Beltre's career line (.270/.325/.453). If Valencia does in fact up the BB rate (as he has consistently done in recent years), he should be able to match the veteran. He may not be an elite defender, but all reports I've heard are that he's a plus there. All that comes for the MLB minimum salary.

I agree that the Twins should try to fill 3B with an elite defender/power RH stick in the meantime. But it has to be someone who's willing to accept a cheap, short-term deal. Why not Crede? Compare his career numbers to Beltre's:

Crede: .254/.304/.444 UZR/150 10.2 (2009: 23.4)
Beltre: .270/.325/.453 UZR/150 13.9 (2009: 21)

When he was on the field last year, Crede actually played better defense than Beltre. The Twins should renew the contract they gave Crede last year. If he stays healthy and earns the incentives, great! The Twins will be getting outstanding glove work and 20+ HR from the bottom of the order while delaying Valencia's service clock. If Crede gets hurt (as he probably will), let the Valencia era begin.

There's no way Beltre is signing for only 1 year, or the $2.5 M base that Crede did last year. This isn't the time for the Twins to be committing years and dollars to a FA who is past his peak. Use the savings to extend Mauer, sign a 2B or trade for an ace.

Anonymous said...

However, Mauer's contract would not begin till after 2010, am I correct? Thus, whatever payroll the Twins are on this season ($90 Million is the rumor), then they have plenty of room to play with, or am I confusing myself?

Mauer is already committed to this year - so, realistically, his new contract will not begin until 2011. Thus, Mauer is out of the way for this year, so we do not have to worry about Mauer taking $15 M this year from the Twins.

Taking all things into consideration, I think the Twins will have plenty of room to take Phillips (who has a $5-7 M deal this year I believe) and Pavano (or Sheets on a Crede contract). $5-7 Million for this year is not bad, especially for somebody of Phillips caliber. Twins do not have to worry about Mauer's contract this year, because he is already tied up until the end of 2010. 5-7 Million to Phillips, and $3 million plus incentives to Sheets...Twins look good.

Nick N. said...

Crede has missed 250 games over the past three years, and he hasn't even been all that good when he's played. Now he's another year older with another back surgery. He's not a solution, regardless of the price.

However, Mauer's contract would not begin till after 2010, am I correct? Thus, whatever payroll the Twins are on this season ($90 Million is the rumor), then they have plenty of room to play with, or am I confusing myself?

I think there's a good chance that a new contract for Mauer would start in 2010, erasing the previous salary commitment for that year. The Twins have done this in the past, most recently with Nathan.

Anonymous said...

"he hasn't even been all that good when he's played."

You can't be thinking of Crede, because the Crede I know is better than Beltre, at least in the field. At one time, Crede was the best overall 3B in baseball. Crede is still a premier defender in the field (better than Beltre who doesnt like to wear a cup) but his bat has been declining. However, if we sign Beltre, this prohibits Valencia. I would re-sign Crede, trade for Phillips, and let Punto/Tolbert play when Crede can't. If Valencia does well in AAA, he will be up in the majors in July.

neckrolls said...

Despite playing just 60% of the time last year, Fangraphs puts Crede's value at $8.6 M. That's because, like Carlos Gomez, his elite defense turns a negative VORP into a positive WARP. But you're right, he's not a solution - he'd just be a place-holder for the real solution: Valencia. A place-holder that, even given his low offensive numbers from 2009, had more value than internal 3B options like Punto, Harris or Tolbert. In other words, even if he were only able to contribute exactly as much as he did last year, he'd make the team better for about half the season. And that, to me, is worth a couple million dollars.

This raises a larger question: Don't you imagine Valencia being a starter for the Twins in the very near future?

lookatthosetwins said...

neckrolls,

I'm not sure how you think that losing 30 points of obp, 10 of slugging, and probably 10 runs worth of defense is even close to coming out even. Also, your numbers aren't park adjusted. Valencia will have to take some huge strides forward to be the option next year. I think we should realistically be looking at him for 2011.

As far as phillips goes, he's very similar to Beltre in overall value, about 3 WAR. Both are very good defenders with some pop, and below average OBP. I wouldn't send off Liriano so quickly, but if its Perkins, Casilla, and Delaney, I think I'd at least consider it. He'd be due about 30 mil over 3 years, but should be worth much more than that. If Beltre would come at a similar price, he'd be the obvious choice, but if the price gets too high, I think Phillips is someone that should be looked at.

Crede has missed 250 games over the past three years, and he hasn't even been all that good when he's played.

I disagree with this. Yes, Crede has missed a lot of time, but he HAS been good when he's played. He was worth about 2 WAR last year in 90 games. That's an absolute steal for what we payed for him. Micheal Cuddyer was also worth about 2 WAR last year. I would expect similar production next year. 90 games, great defense, a little pop and about 2 WAR. If Valencia does take a big step up, then he'll be there to replace him. I don't think he's the best option, but I'd rather have a second baseman (Lopez/Phillips/Polanco)+Crede than Beltre, if the money is the same. That would have the added benefit of making Punto one of the best utility players in the league.

neckrolls said...

As I said, I expect Valencia's OBP to improve significantly in the spring, as it has in each of the previous years of his pro career. He does need to take some huge strides forward - but he's been able to do just that every year so far. The translated stats I gave for Valencia are adjusted for the pitcher-friendly International League. I didn't think to look for adjusted stats for Beltre - that certainly lengthens the gap between them. And I don't know where to find a run value of Valencia's defense, so I'm unwilling to make a comparison there.

But my point was, for a 24-year old in his 3rd pro season to be putting up numbers even in the neighborhood of a 10-year MLB vet who has just finished his prime is impressive. Beltre would probably provide more value on the field in the next couple of years. But would the difference in value be worth the difference in cost? Remember, Valencia will work for less than 10% of Beltre's wages. So I agree that the Twins would come out ahead in terms of team production if they spent that Beltre-type money on another position instead.

Mauer4evauer said...

Agreed. Put me in the 2b + Crede camp, or even the Crede + pitcher camp. I can even take a Punto in the lineup here and there as long as its not accompanied by one's Tolberts, Casillas, and Harrises. Beltre is a very nice player, but he just doesn't seem to be an effective use of limited monies for the Twins.

I loved what the Twins did with Crede in 2009 and would love to re-up the deal--low downside, high upside, and a warm, gooey center.

Nick N. said...

You can't be thinking of Crede, because the Crede I know is better than Beltre, at least in the field.

FanGraphs has Crede at 10.2 career UZR/150 at third base; Beltre at 13.9. Also, being great in the field doesn't do a terrible amount of good when you're never on it. Prior to last year Beltre had been exceptionally durable.

Despite playing just 60% of the time last year, Fangraphs puts Crede's value at $8.6 M. That's because, like Carlos Gomez, his elite defense turns a negative VORP into a positive WARP.

The difference in the defensive importance of a third baseman and a center fielder -- particularly on this team -- is quite vast, so comparing Crede and Gomez doesn't really work. I don't think this is well reflected by WARP.

Yes, Crede has missed a lot of time, but he HAS been good when he's played. He was worth about 2 WAR last year in 90 games.

I don't really buy that calculation. Crede hit .225 with a .289 on-base percentage; I refuse to believe that hitting a few homers and playing great defense at third base for the league's most FB-heavy pitching staff over 90 games simply canceled out that ghastly out-making rate.

Don't you imagine Valencia being a starter for the Twins in the very near future?

I like Valencia. I've been on him for a long time, and ranked him fifth on my preseason top prospects list this year when many refused to put him in their Top 10. But he has significant flaws and his realistic upside is pretty much average MLB 3B. Beltre is a great player with far better potential, and if he could be had at a reasonable rate this offseason it's something the Twins would have to look into.

That's not really an indictment of Valencia, Beltre would just be a fantastic get.

wwcd said...

When Beltre came back from his injury Ken Griffey Jr. had the "The Nutcracker" played over the PA when Beltre came up to bat.

lookatthosetwins said...

Nick,

Crede's OPS last year was .703, Beltre's was .683. Crede also had a career low BABIP. This should regress (positively) and up his OBP to a more reasonable level. Obviously Beltre isn't as bad as he showed last year, but I'd argue that either is Crede. The Bill James projection for Crede is .242/.303/.432. For Beltre its .269/.321/.439. Looking at their numbers over the last few years, I don't know how you can argue with these too much. You obviously can give Beltre a boost for leaving Seattle, but at the very most we're talking about 50 points in OPS, which is about 10 runs, or one win, over the course of a full season.

Now, projecting Beltre to play 135 games (you can quibble with this, but he's played 147, 139, and 111 the last 3 years) and Crede to play 90, you'd get 2/3 of the playing time out of Crede. Assuming Beltre is about 3 runs better in the field and 8 with the bat over 135 games, he'd be just over a win better. So if you project Beltre to be a 4 win player (2 wins above average) you'd project Crede to be about 3 wins during that same amout of time. Now, assuming that Crede plays 2/3 as much as Beltre, you get 2 wins, or a league average player.

You call Crede an out machine, yet forget that Beltre is below average in that category also. Beltre is a very good player, but accounting for their differences in production an playing time, Crede should be worth about half what Beltre is.

If you give Crede an incentive laden contract starting at about 2.5 mil, you are essentially paying 2.5 mil for 2 WAR, or maybe 5 for 3 WAR. Either way, a steal. Beltre would be more like 30 mil for 12 WAR over the course of 3 seasons.

I just don't see how you can dismiss Crede so easily. He projects to be an above average player, using numbers he accrued while playing through injuries and accounting for age. He wouldn't be my first choice, but considering we have more than one hole to fill on a limited budget, I think someone as cheap as Crede would be a good option, as it might allow us to also sign a starting pitcher or second basemen. Crede seems like a "riskier" move, but, to the contrary, a one year, incentive laden deal carries very little risk compared to a 3 year guaranteed one.

David said...

I'm interested in the commenters proposing a 5 year, $95 million contract for Mauer. Is that even a realistic offer? I mean, I know the Twins are banking on some kind of hometown discount, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see open market offers approaching 10 years/280 million. Seriously. I know that sounds insane, but there has never been a player like Mauer before, and both Boston and New York need a catcher in a bad way. It seem to me that the Twins will have to get into at least the 7/140 range before Mauer really starts considering a discount. And I think that'd be a steal, at least by the end of the deal.

Nick N. said...

I just don't see how you can dismiss Crede so easily.

He's an OBP sinkhole. He can't stay healthy. He's on the wrong side of 30 and coming off his third straight back surgery.

Even in his career-worst season last year, Beltre still had a better WAR than Crede, and considering that the two are likely to head in opposite directions next season, I only expect that gap to widen.

Crede has had the benefit of spending most of the past five years in a very hitter friendly stadium and has had his offensive stats cushioned by his home park. Beltre has had the opposite trend. Crede might have been "unlucky" last season but he's still a .250 career hitter with a .300 OBP. Beltre is actually a legitimately good hitter, along with being a superior fielder. There's not much comparison between the two, in my mind.

David said...

DeRosa is a much better option.

Nick N. said...

DeRosa is a much better option.

See tomorrow's post.

Kenny G said...

Lopez is the best option! We need a #2 hitter and he'll have a great OBP. He's cheap and we can sign a pitcher also(Hopefully Bedard or Harden).

B Dubz said...

Punto/whoever at 3B until Valencia is ready to come up. Invest in the free agent 2B market with Felipe Lopez--defense is OK but great BA and OBS for our GAPING #2 hole in the line up.

Getting Lopez and Span on base for Mauer, Morneau, Cuddy, and Kubel? Awesome.

Additional money spend on veteran pitcher.

Stephen said...

Why is it assumed Valecia is going to be a productive rookie? That doesn't always happen. I am looking at you Alex Gordon and Gordon had the prestige of being a top prospect. Valencia isn't even near the same level as Beltre in hitting (comparing minor league slash lines vs major league slash lines is foolish), and I am not sure about his defense. However, Beltre over Crede for his injury stability.

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