Sunday, November 7, 2010
After Beltre hit .334/.388/.629 (.424 wOBA) with 48 home runs, 121 RBIs, and 10.1 WAR in 2004, Beltre went onto the free agent market with the purpose of breaking the bank--and he did. In December 2004, he and his agent Scott Boras came to terms with the Seattle Mariners on a 5 year $64M contract. Depending on who you talk to, Beltre's contract was either appropriately valued or a huge disappointment. I tend to think his contract was appropriately valued, but I can certainly understand why others would disagree.
Coming off of a superhuman 2004 season, expectations for Beltre were incredibly high. The Mariners looked to Beltre (and the newly signed Richie Sexton) to revitalize an offense that finished dead last in the American League in runs and SLG in 2004 (and tenth in OBP). That didn't happen. In 2005, the Mariners finished thirteenth in runs scored and SLG, while finishing dead last in OBP. While Sexton got a free pass (at the time) on the strength of his 39 home runs and 121 RBIs, Beltre was slammed for his lack of offensive performance. Things didn't get any better over the next four seasons for either Beltre or the Mariners. During his five year tenure in Seattle, Beltre put up a triple slash line of .266/.317/.442 (+10.1 wRAA). Based on his offensive numbers, it's pretty easy to understand why so many people felt Beltre was a huge bust in Seattle.
Unfortunately, that line of thinking is flawed. Statistics can tell you an awful lot about a player. That said, if you don't look at the right mix of statistics, you'll only see a very narrow view of a player's true value. This is where Beltre's detractors fell short in terms of their evaluation. Offensive contribution is only one aspect of player value. Where Beltre's offensive contributions were barely above average, his defensive contributions were significant. Over his five seasons in Seattle, he was worth +49.5 runs defensively (per UZR), which was among the best in the league during that period.* Once you factor in positional value and durability, we find that Beltre was worth 16.9 wins above the replacement during the life of his contract, or $68M in value. After converting WAR to dollars (using the Fangraphs method), Beltre provided the Mariners with a positive net value of $4M. While this may not have been what Mariners fans (or front office) were expecting from Beltre when they signed him, he shouldn't be considered a bust--at least not by rational, objective measures.
*How he's only won two Gold Gloves in his career is nothing short of disturbing. That's a story for another post though.
After the 2009 season, Beltre and his super agent Scott Boras, went looking for another long term contract. After testing the market for a couple of months, they found that the market they anticipated for Beltre's services (a four to five year deal worth $12-15M per season) had failed to materialize. While there were many interested suitors, most were only interested in locking Beltre up for one or two years. Rather than settling for a deal that didn't fit their expectations, Boras and Beltre signed a one year deal (with a second year player option) with the Boston Red Sox. Their hope was that Beltre, now fully healthy, would go to Boston and rebuild his value as an offensive player. If Beltre bounced back, he could decline the option for the second year, and cash in as a free agent. If he didn't bounce back, he could pick up his 2011 option, which guaranteed a $5M payday.* While there was some risk for both Beltre and the Red Sox, the risk was minimal. Luckily for all parties involved, Beltre had a huge season putting up a .390 wOBA, +11.8 UZR, and 7.1 WAR. Not surprisingly, Beltre declined his 2011 option.
*His contract included a provision that the 2011 option would increase from $5M to $10M if Beltre accumulated 640 plate appearances. He finished the season with 641 plate appearances.
Going into the 2010-2011 offseason, Beltre's suitors are faced with the same questions they were faced with in the wake of his MVP worthy 2004 season. Which Adrian Beltre will show up in 2011? Was his 2010 season a fluke? How should his 2010 season factor into projections for the next four to five seasons? Going into his age-32 season, is Beltre worth signing to a five year contract? None of these questions are easy to answer. For the remainder of the post, I will try to answer the last question: Is Beltre worth signing to a five year contract?
For this example, I'm going to assume that Beltre will be seeking a 5 year deal with an annual average salary of $14M. Based on my initial 2011 projections, Beltre will be a 4.0 WAR player in 2011. In years two and three, I'll set the regression rate at 0.5 WAR per season; and in years four and five at 0.75 WAR per season. As with my previous examples, I will assume a 5% increase in the value of a win on the free agent market over each of the next six seasons. Here's how Beltre stacks up over the the next five seasons:
Age WAR Value Salary Variance
2011 32 4.0 $16.4 $14.0 +$2.4
2012 33 3.5 $15.0 $14.0 +$1.0
2013 34 3.0 $13.5 $14.0 -$0.5
2014 35 2.3 $10.9 $14.0 -$3.1
2015 36 1.5 $7.5 $14.0 -$6.5
Total 14.3 $63.3 $70.0 -$6.7
(All monetary values in millions.)
Based on my model, it appears that my theoretical 5 year $70M contract for Beltre is a pretty decent fit. It's not ideal, especially in year five of the contract, but it's certainly a reasonable deal. The smartest move for teams would be to attempt signing him to three or four year deal with the same average salary. With Scott Boras on the other side of the negotiating table, that's going to be a tough sell. With Beltre coming off of a huge season, he's going to have quite a bit of leverage.
Beltre doesn't walk a lot (career rate 6.9%), but he also doesn't strike out a lot (career rate 17.0%). He also exhibited quite a bit of power in 2010 with 49 doubles and 28 home runs (.553 SLG and .233 ISO). While we can't expect a repeat of those numbers next season (he played half of his games in the cozy confines of Fenway Park), we also shouldn't expect a return to the numbers of his Seattle days (Safeco is known for stifling right handed power hitters). Lastly, his defense is still Gold Glove caliber. In seven of his last nine seasons, he's posted double digit positive UZR scores. All of these things bode well for Beltre in the future since his skill set is one that tends to age gracefully. All things considered, Beltre looks like he should be an above average third baseman for the next four (possibly five) seasons.