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Why the Beltre Deal Worked for Both Sides

01.08.10 at 12:51 pm ET

Yes, Scott Boras admitted, when he talked to clubs about Adrian Beltre, he was seeking a huge multi-year offer. But that quest, the agent insisted, was always done with the idea in mind that the third baseman, following a 2009 campaign in which his playing time and offensive production were severely impacted by injuries, would ultimately end up pursuing a one-year contract in a setting that would allow him to re-establish his performance before seeking a bigger contract.

Beltre was presented with a number of three-year offers — by the agent’s reckoning, three or four such offers for a player recovering from injury represented an extraordinary occurrence. But ultimately, Beltre saw the potential fit of going from a ballpark (Safeco) that is death to right-handed power hitter for a year to one that rewards such a class, trying to mash the ball and sustain his Gold Glove-caliber defense as too good an opportunity to pass up. This was in both sides’ short-term interests for 2010 and also in Beltre’s long-term interest going forward.

“In this situation, economics weren’€™t the priority as much as positioning coming off the injury season. He’€™s an elite player. He was not going to get an elite contract coming off an injury season. He was going to get a good contract but not an elite one,” said Boras. “I told teams, ‘€˜If you’€™re interested in him, it’€™s going to take a multi-year deal at big numbers. Otherwise, we’€™re going to do something different.’€™ We basically did that. That doesn’€™t mean teams didn’€™t attempt to sign him, which is very rare, fielding multiple three-year contract offers for a player coming off an injury season.

“I told Adrian coming in, ‘€˜I’€™m going to do a pillow contract for us. If someone comes up and really makes this work economically, if someone came up and gave us a four-year contract at elite money, I would probably say take that. Other than that, re-establish a full season, illustrate who you are and then in a year go back in the marketplace.'”

(As an aside – that, of course, raises the question: what on earth is a pillow contract. To Boras we go: “A pillow contract is, basically, you lay down, it’€™s comfortable, it’€™s soft, it’€™s there. But the fact of the matter is it’€™s not with you all the time. That’€™s a one-year contract. Your pillow, you leave it, you come back, it’€™s there,” said Boras. “Short-term, you use it for a little bit, then you move on.”)

The two sides worked through some of the nuances of the collective bargaining agreement, specifically as it pertains to luxury tax, to figure out how to make the contract work within the Sox’ payroll structures. There was creativity, as Beltre’s deal — thanks to the structure of the player option, as well as the corresponding move to trade Casey Kotchman to the Mariners in exchange for Bill Hall, cash and a player to be named — made a minimal impact on the Sox’ payroll as calculated for luxury tax purposes.

Ultimately, Beltre got a contract that will give him a higher salary in 2010 ($9 million, potentially $10 million if he reaches a plate appearances threshold) than what he was being offered in the multi-year deals that were reportedly in the three-year, $24 million range from teams like the A’s and Twins. He will go to a park that will do more to reward his approach at the plate than just about any other park — something that will be novel after a career spent in Safeco and Dodger Stadium.

“[Safeco] is a beautiful ballpark. But as a hitter, sometimes you make contact and you expect a little better result. It didn’€™t work out that way,” said Beltre. “Sometimes you’€™re going to take a hit on your at-bats if you’€™re not confident. Sometimes you hit a ball and think it will be a gapper or maybe a homer and it ends up being an out.  Next at-bat, you probably think about trying to hit it a little harder. that’€™s here the problem comes, creating some bad habits. Maybe that won’€™t happen here.”

As Sox G.M. Theo Epstein pointed out, Beltre could benefit enormously simply by being anywhere but Safeco.

“We think Fenway is a fit for Adrian. It’€™s hard to emphasize just how much Safeco deflates offensive performance for right-handed power hitters. It’€™s really a tough place to hit,” said Epstein. “Mike Cameron, I know, talked about it when he was in here. It’€™s a difficult place to put up any kind of numbers, left field, left-center, center field, even if you hit the ball well to the opposite field, it’€™s hard to get rewarded as a right-handed hitter there. Obviously Fenway is a nice place to hit if you can elevate the ball to the pull side. It also doesn’€™t take away from a nice opposite field stroke.

“Adrian’€™s natural stroke sometimes is to the opposite field, which is fine. He’€™ll be rewarded here in the gaps. Pull-side elevation will obviously be rewarded. We think he’€™ll be a nice fit. Just getting out of Safeco even moreso than getting to Fenway is significant if you look at Adrian’€™s road performance over the years, it’€™s very impressive what he’€™s done outside of Safeco, and even before that, he was in a pitchers park in Dodger Stadium. It will be a nice change for him. And as he said, it’€™s more than just numbers. It’€™s a mindset and confidence and it’€™s effect on the whole ballclub.”

From 2006-08, Beltre hit .287/.338/.503/.840 on the road with 39 homers; at home, he hit .252/.311/.432/.743 with 37 homers. (Of course, that conveniently ignores the fact that Beltre was terrible on the road in 2005 (.248/.295/.440/.736) and during his injury-prone 2009…)

Boras is convinced that Beltre will be in a position to seek an elite contract following the season. If so, then Beltre will have gotten a deal that is to his long-term benefit.

On the other side of the coin, the Sox believe that this short-term deal fits perfectly into the team’s broader picture. Aside from the five-year deal to John Lackey (which creates an interesting phenomenon – how many other clubs in baseball have three pitchers (Lackey, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka) signed to deals of five or more seasons?), the team has been able to acquire a number of players on short-term deals. Marco Scutaro (2 years with both a team and player option for a third), Mike Cameron (two years) and Adrian Beltre (one year plus player option) should all help the club to remain competitive for the 2010 season while also avoiding a scenario when the Sox’ top farm players are blocked from the majors.

These short-term deals are precisely the bridge of which Epstein spoke earlier this offseason. The Sox believe they improved their defense signficantly, and acquired some players who will allow them to have a better-than-expected offense, without clogging the major-league roster for the long haul and without having to trade any top minor leaguers.

“Unless you get a steal of a contract, it’€™s always better to be short than long from a club’€™s perspective,” Epstein explained. “I probably regret ever saying the word bridge when I talked to you guys . . . What I meant was, we’€™ve been a good team, we’€™ve been to the playoffs six out of seven years, we’€™ve had a certain core in place, we’€™ve won 95 games six out of seven years, and I know we’€™re going to be good when I’€™m projecting into the future, players we really like in our farm system, our pre-prime players will still be in their prime.

“The building blocks are still in place to have a really strong foundation going forward, starting in a couple of years. The question was, how are we going to maintain competitiveness at the highest level this year, 2010, 2011. That’€™s why it was a bit of a bridge. A bridge from one pretty good team to what we project will be another pretty good team. How to get there without hamstringing the future, while maintaining competitiveness at the highest level. One way to do that is to sign really good players to shorter-term contracts, and to really solidify elements of the team like pitching and defense, and I’€™d like to think that we accomplished that, but there are no guarantees in baseball.”


Read More: Adrian Beltre, Scott Boras, Theo Epstein,
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