Adrian Beltre Takes Over At The Hot Corner

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

According to ESPN.com and RedSox.com, the Boston Red Sox have signed free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre to a one year deal worth an estimated $9 million dollars with a $5 million dollar option for the 2011 season contingent on passing a physical. The deal comes off the heels of the botched trade that would have sent incumbent third baseman Mike Lowell to the Texas Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez.. Soon after the trade failed with Texas, Mike Lowell underwent surgery to repair a thumb injury that held up the trade.

With the acquisition of Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and now Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox are making big changes to strengthen the team defensively. Despite the news that Mike Lowell will require a few months to recover from thumb surgery, it’s impossible to ignore the reality that Adrian Beltre’s bat arguably weakens the Red Sox offense. Aside from coming off his worst season in recent years, Beltre’s shown a slight decline in OPS+ and SLG% in each of the last three seasons. In the articles by ESPN and MLB.com, it’s reported that the Red Sox hope Beltre’s numbers will improve with his home games at Fenway Park rather than spacious Safeco Field. This may be the case, but in 2009 Mike Lowell outperformed Adrian Beltre in nearly every offensive category. If 2008 and 2009 are any indication(and truth be told, maybe they are not indicative of his future!), Mike Lowell has shown consistent offensive output despite balky hips.

The other concern that the Adrian Beltre deal raises in the financial committment that makes the third base situation similar to the shortstop situation in recent years. The actual financial decisions by the Red Sox don’t raise a concern. A team can spend money as they wish. The concern is when financial decisions end up playing a role later on with regard to whether or not the team will have flexibility at the midseason trade deadline to pick up a necessary player for the stretch run. The Red Sox have gone down this road before. They were obligated to Julio Lugo’s contract in addition to the contract of Alex Gonzalez in 2009. Before Lugo, it was Edgar Renteria’s contract in 2005 that the Red Sox sent part of the remaining salary to the Braves to upgrade the team.

As it looks now, the Red Sox may be on the hook for somewhere between $10-22 million dollars at the third base position, the combination of both Adrian Beltre’s and Mike Lowell’s 2010 contracts. They will likely end up paying somewhere in the middle. It may be worth mentioning that Mets’ second baseman Luis Castillo is due $12 million over the next two seasons. As the articles by ESPN and MLB also indicate, the Red Sox are in negotiations that would send Lowell to the Mets for Castillo. While the deal may benefit the Mets with Lowell shifting to first base, it looks like a player/salary dump by the Red Sox, with the possibility of saving some cash on Lowell’s 2010 contract.

Since it is early January, this may also simply be the next move in several additional moves that take place even before Pitchers & Catchers report in mid-February. One thing is for certain. Like their New York division rivals, the Red Sox appear to be putting defense as the priority heading into the new year.

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