Getting Adrian Beltre for a guarantee of just one year and $10 million has to be viewed as a steal for the Red Sox. It's a huge come-down from Scott Boras's early demands of four years and $40 million, or more.
Beltre earned $12 million last season and would have received a bump up in arbitration, which he declined. Perhaps he was just desperate to get out of the expansive Safeco Field.
The Red Sox obviously feel Beltre's surgically repaired shoulder is fully healed, that he can still play stellar defense, and that Fenway will revitalize his offense—which slumped markedly last season.
Beltre is a free swinger who doesn't see very many pitches per at-bat (3.56/AB last season; 3.70 over the previous four seasons). He also has an atrocious .325 carer OBP. However, he does possess a .270 career batting average.
And Beltre averaged 25 homers and a .793 OPS for the Mariners from 2006 to ’08 despite playing at Safeco Field, a power sapper for right-handed hitters. For comparison's sake, Mike Lowell has produced an impressive .829 OPS over four seasons in Boston. During that period, Lowell has averaged 19 homers and 87 RBI.
Beltre was like two different players, depending on whether he was hitting at Safeco or on the road.
Over his five-year career with the Mariners (2005-2009), Beltre played 353 games at Safeco, where he hit .254, with 116 extra-base hits and 174 RBI. In that span, Beltre also played 362 road games, in which he batted .277, with 167 extras-base hits and 222 RBI.
The left field foul pole at Safeco is 331 feet from home plate, and the left field power alley is 390 feet away. For comparison's sake, Fenway Park measures 310 feet down the left field line, and 379 feet in left center.
As a Mariner, Beltre posted a .277 batting average and .813 OPS away from the canyon-like Safeco. Quite similarly, Lowell’s career averages are .280 and .810, respectively. But Beltre is five years younger than Lowell, with better range and speed.
Fenway should be kinder to Beltre. While that remains to be seen, over the course of his 12-year career, he has proven himself as a power-hitter and a run producer.
During the five-year period that Beltre played with Seattle, the only third baseman in the AL to finish with more homers and RBI was Alex Rodriguez.
But to look solely at Beltre's offensive numbers is to miss the point. The Red Sox are aiming to put a premier defense on the field this season and Beltre, a top-notch defender, is part of that strategy.
Widely considered one of the two or three best defensive third basemen in the game today, the Dominican native won back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008.
Last season Beltre posted a .959 fielding percentage, making 14 errors over his 110 starts.
Some fans got caught up in his eye-popping 2004 season with the Dodgers, when he belted 48 homers, drove in 121 runs, and batted .334. But Beltre had never before, and has never since, had a season remotely resembling that one. If he bounces back to hit 25 homers and plays exceptional defense, as he has in the past, the Red Sox will be thrilled.
The crazy thing is that the Red Sox could end up paying $20 million or more in 2010 for Beltre and Lowell, as well as $14 million for shortstops Julio Lugo and Marco Scutaro. That's a lot of money, especially considering that one player, and perhaps two, will be playing for another team in 2010.
Casey Kotchman's tenure as the starting first baseman was awfully brief. The Red Sox essentially exchanged Kotchman for Beltre, and the move should benefit them this season.
However, the Sox now have a trio third basemen on their roster (Beltre, Lowell, and Bill Hall). That would appear to make them desperate to move Lowell. But that could change.
David Ortiz is a very one-dimensional player; all stick, no glove. And he has been fading offensively for two consecutive seasons. Last year, he hit a paltry .238, which followed a 2008 season in which he hit .264. That's a dramatic decline for a guy who had been a .302 hitter over his first five seasons in Boston. The point is, Ortiz was more than just a power hitter, he was a very good all around hitter.
Those days may be long since over. Ortiz had a horrible first two months of the 2009 season, and another slump when his steroids scandal broke. Say what what you will about distractions, but all the hoopla never hurt Barry Bonds.
Both Lowell and Ortiz are under contract for roughly the same $12 million this season. If Lowell is hot at the plate in spring training, and Ortiz looks similarly old with diminished bat speed, Ortiz could be the one on the block.
If Lowell is healthy, he is far more versatile. If he shows that he can handle first base in Fort Meyers, that would give him a considerable advantage over Ortiz to remain with the club for the duration of 2010. That said, I did use the word "if" three times in that scenario.
Trading for Bill Hall is confounding; the Sox' bench was already too deep with Kotchman, Lowell, Lowrie, Varitek and Hermida. With five players on the bench, they couldn't carry their customary 12-man pitching staff. So someone had to go.
But replacing Kotchman with Hall doesn't solve that problem. And Hall has played 805 career games, meaning he is long since out of options and can't be sent to Pawtucket.
What this tells us is that Jed Lowrie will start his season at Triple A and may remain there unless his wrist is fully recovered, allowing his offense to bloom once again..
That aside, Hall is a career .251 hitter, with a .309 OBP. Apart from being abysmal, those stats fly in the face of the Sox' organizational philosophy. Additionally, Hall's career fielding percentage is .962, and .838 as a third baseman. That's just horrible.
However, Hall is a utility player with Major League experience in left field, right field, second base and shortstop.
He had a freak year in 2006 when he hit 35 homers, which was twice his output in any year before or since.
Hall is 30 years old and is a fully developed player. I just don't get it. The best you can say is that he is a more versatile player in the field than Kotchman.
The two newest additions seem to mostly set the Red Sox roster, depending on what becomes of Lowell, or possibly Ortiz.
The team's pitching and defense were clearly improved this offseason, and the offense should still be good enough to compete in the AL East and get them into the playoffs.
And once in the playoffs, pitching and defense reign supreme.
That's just what the Red Sox are counting on.