Red Sox: What if third baseman Adrian Beltre never left Boston?

Mar 7, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) looks on from the dugout prior to the game against the Washington Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) looks on from the dugout prior to the game against the Washington Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox released third baseman Adrian Beltre after just one season. Was it the right decision?

The “What If” Series of articles will cover acquisitions and trades the Boston Red Sox made and will question whether management made the right choice or the wrong one. Our first topic, we’ll be discussing is the current third basemen for the Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre.

Ever wonder what would have happened if Beltre  never left Boston? The Sox made several ensuing moves as a result of not signing Beltre long term. Some were good and some were complete failures. We’ll explore the moves made by the Sox one-by-one as a result of not signing Beltre. Ultimately, we’ll figure out if the Red Sox made the right decision to not retain his services past 2010.

When Beltre came to play for the Boston Red Sox, he did it for the bargain rate of $9 million. It included a $1 million buy out for 2011 if no long term agreement could be agreed upon. Beltre came to the Red Sox knowing he had something to prove, as his last season in a five-year deal with the Seattle  Mariners was a disaster. With Mike Lowell’s  career nearing its end, Beltre would start plenty of games. No way would Beltre do worse than his .265/8/44/13 line the year before.

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When the Sox acquired Beltre, no one thought he was the answer long term. His numbers fell quickly after his final season in Los Angeles playing for the Dodgers. This was someone that crushed 48 home runs back in 2004. A new team could rejuvenate his career. What he did in Boston was nothing short of what the doctor ordered. For the first time since Mike Lowell’s 2007 campaign, we had a threat at third base. For what he did in 2010, Beltre was underpaid.

After five years in Seattle and losing his way, Beltre was a new man in Boston. Seeing him channel his inner Mike Piazza to smash bombs out of the park was always fun. His home run swings were always entertaining. Here’s Beltre mashing a  grand slam that looked like it was supposed to land somewhere in Novascotia. He was memorable also for his genuflecting technique  annihilating balls over the Monster.

I think one of the most memorable things about him was his ire for anyone who tried touching his head. One would suffer the consequences.

Beltre posted a .321/28/102/2 slash in his only season in Boston. With that type of campaign, a long term deal seemed likely had it not been for one major caveat – age. Beltre was 31 years old. He was now over the 3-0 hump and most teams would be hesitant to sign a player for anything long term. Proven players are one thing but one season proves nothing. One good year after several poor ones could have been viewed as a stroke of luck. A guaranteed pay day was not in the stars. Beltre earned a raise and major pay day. In the end however, the Sox were not willing to go with what he requested.

A 4-year deal worth $50 million or something in that range seemed feasible. Add performance incentives to make the deal total out to $60 million. The Sox would get a Gold Glove caliber player for another four years. There seemed to be mutual interest in making a deal work at first. It would certainly have helped the franchise until the farm system comes through with the next Nomar Garciaparra type player, minus the injuries of course, at third base.

Unfortunately, Beltre left for Texas on a 6-year deal worth $96 million including the option year. There’s no way that the Red Sox pay someone who’s going to be 37 at the end of the contract that kind of money. Sometimes not making moves will hurt you. Sometimes it doesn’t. Hindsight’s 20/20 as the Sox committed to paying the “Price” until he’s 37 years old. Yes, pun intended.

Before the 2011 season began, the Red Sox signed free agent  Carl Crawford to a 7-year $142 million dollar deal.  More importantly, the Sox traded a package of prospects to the San Diego Padres for Adrian Gonzalez and handed him a 7-year $154 million extension.

Crawford had just finished up his best season in Tampa Bay with a .307/19/90/47 line. Crawford also became the first outfielder to receive a $100+ million contract without ever hitting 20 home runs in a season.

Gonzalez in 2010 posted a .298/31/101/0 line. Never living up to his contract, Crawford was dealt to the Dodgers in a mega-blockbuster deal involving Gonzalez, Nick Punto, & a disgruntled Josh Beckett.

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Without Gonzalez, the Dodgers never accept the deal and the Sox never shed millions in owed contracts. The Red Sox are also given the opportunity to push the reset button and start anew.

Less than two years after parting ways with Beltre, the Sox were now left picking up the pieces. Was it a mistake? Was there a benefit to the trade? The Sox no longer have to deal with Carl Crawford and his glass frame anymore at Gonzalez’s expense

When the Red Sox traded for Gonzalez, they gave up a plethora of prospects including Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo. Kelly still pitches but his value has fallen substantially after coming back from Tommy John surgery as a reliever. Rizzo, yes that Rizzo guy who plays for the Cubs, has graced his squad with three straight 30+ home runs seasons. In 2016, he added his first Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and first World Series title with Chicago. This may go down as one of the biggest oops trades the Sox ever made. It’s up there with the Jeff Bagwell  for Larry Andersen  trade in 1990. You better believe this one will get covered.

Not holding onto Beltre wasn’t a complete mistake. Yes, Beltre in 2010 did basically put up his home run total in all of 2009 in the month of June. Yes he hit .376 that month. Beltre was awesome. Not signing him did bring some good fortune however. Due to the Sox not knowing if Beltre was going to repeat, letting him walk gifted the Sox two compensation draft picks. Who did the Sox draft with those selections? This is where it gets exciting. In 2011, the Red Sox drafted Blake Swihart 26th overall and Jackie Bradley Jr. with the 40th overall pick.

Remarkable odds to have drafted two future major league players at the cost of not signing one long term. JBJ was an absolute stud last year and was finding his way the prior year or so before that. JBJ is poised to have another great season and he’s only be 26 years old, 27 next month. Swihart is still figuring it out and has time on his side as he’s still only 24 before he hits the quarter century mark next month. Remember, Beltre would have been 31 before his long term deal with Boston.

Had the Red Sox not made the move to sign Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis still would have manned one of the corners in the infield. Youk could have stayed at first base or moved to third base depending on the situation. With Rizzo still not ready to take over at first base, Youk could continue playing there. Third base could have been handled well by Jed Lowrie  and Mike Aviles. If all else failed and the Sox wanted to continue using Lowrie & Aviles as platoon players, Youk could still move over to third as originally planned.

Paul Konerko, who was born in New England, could have been brought in on a one-year deal. Konerko ended up signing for 3-years, $37.5 million with the White Sox. The Red Sox could have made it worth his while signing Konerko for $14 million dollars with a $1 million dollar buy. That would given him $15 million after one years service.

By 2012 Anthony Rizzo would have continued playing first base where he would undoubtedly have been a part of the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. All this because the Red Sox decided against signing Adrian Beltre long term.

Next: Porcello will start Opening Day

The verdict? Not signing Beltre was the right move by Sox management as they received not one, but two future major leaguers.