I’m in Vail, CO, and I’m completely bushed after a long day of snowboarding. Fortunately, this is the easiest post I’m going to write all offseason. There’s no combination of player and team in this free agent market that matches up better than the Angels and Adrian Beltre.
The Angels had the 7th highest payroll in baseball last season, at slightly below $123.5 million. They’re a big-money ballclub, and with that kind of cash comes the expectation that they should be able to fill out their roster with starters who are at least league-average. However, their third base situation was a complete mess last year, as they split duties between Alberto Callaspo (52 starts, 0.2 WAR), Brandon Wood (46 starts, -1.8 WAR), Kevin Frandsen (38 starts, -0.4 WAR), and Maicer Izturis (26 starts, 1.0 WAR). Izturis is penciled in as the starter for 2011, but he’s more of an infield Swiss Army knife type every team would love to be able to bring off the bench. He’s played strong defense at second, short, and third over the course of his six-year career, but for a team looking to make a solid playoff run, he’s not going to provide the kind of production the Angels want from the hot corner. 2 WAR is generally accepted as being the benchmark for a borderline starter. Izturis has only had one season of 2+ WAR, in 2009, and he put up a wRC+ of 91 last season.
Fortunately, the perfect solution is staring GM Tony Reagins and the rest of the Angels’ front office right in the face. Adrian Beltre is one of the strongest all-around ballplayers on this year’s free agent market, pairing above-average offense with extremely strong defense (career 15.3 UZR/150 at 3B), and once in a while putting together a season that ranks him among the best players in baseball. Last year’s 7.1 WAR was the second-best season of his career, falling short of his ridiculous 10.1 WAR season in his 2004 contract year as a Dodger. His 143 wRC+ was third among third basemen last season, behind only Jose Bautista and Ryan Zimmerman, and at 31, he’s still got some good years left in him. The market also seems to be cooling somewhat on him, as the A’s and Rangers are reported to be the only other interested teams. Without the competition that existed for big-name free agents earlier in the offseason, Beltre will almost certainly eventually sign a contract that pales in comparison to the deals Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth received.
The Angels offered Beltre roughly 5 years and $70 million a little more than a week ago, then reportedly pulled that offer when it wasn’t accepted by Beltre and agent Scott Boras. The only other offer Beltre was reported to have received this offseason was for 5 years and $45 million from the A’s, so I’d guess that he won’t see a better offer than the one he got from LA. Boras may be forced into the uncomfortable situation of asking the Angels to put their offer back on the table, and if Reagins plays hardball he may be forced to accept a less lucrative contract than the one they offered originally. Regardless, I don’t see any other team with the need and ability to pony up the kind of money it’s going to take to get Beltre to sign. This deal simply makes too much sense not to happen, so while the sport we love is extremely unpredictable, it’d be a huge surprise to see the Angels fail to ink their Perfect Pickup, Adrian Beltre.
Check back next time, when we'll look at the Marlins and try to figure out the best option they can fit into their miniscule budget.