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Beltre contemplates (sort of) the future

07.20.10 at 6:40 am ET
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Adrian Beltre authored yet another huge performance in his remarkable season with the Red Sox. The third baseman delivered one of his most crucial hits of the year, blasting a solo homer to deep left-center in the top of the fourth inning to provide the Sox with the margin of victory in their 2-1 win over the Athletics.

That was part of a three-hit night (Beltre’€™s team-leading 10th such game of the 2010 season) that improved the third baseman’€™s average to .333 with a .924 OPS, 15 homers and 58 RBI this year. The performance offered a reminder about how fortunate the Sox are that Beltre came to Boston this year.

The A’€™s, after all, were one of the teams that was most aggressive in its pursuit of the 31-year-old this offseason. Oakland made a multi-year offer to the third baseman, hoping to capitalize on his injury-induced struggles of 2009 to take advantage of a buy-low opportunity.

Beltre declined, instead taking a one-year, $9 million deal with the Sox that included a $5 million player option for 2011 (a cosmetic option whose primary purpose was to diminish the luxury tax hit of his contract).

Now, of course, he is positioned to cash in on his tremendous season with what will be ‘€“ barring a major injury ‘€“ more lucrative multi-year deals this coming winter. He is currently leading all big league third basemen in average (.333), slugging (.550) and OPS (.921). Yet Beltre insists that he has given little thought to what he will seek in his next contract.

‘€œI don’€™t think about stuff like that. Too early. I don’€™t see ahead. I don’€™t see behind. I’€™m not really thinking about that now,’€ Beltre said at the All-Star Game last week. ‘€œI took a chance to come here, one year instead of a multi-year contract, to have a chance to put a ring on my finger. That’€™s what I’€™m concentrating on this year. After that, whether we do or we don’€™t, I’€™ll make the decision then with my family, depending on the options we have.’€

Beltre’€™s uncertainty about his next contract goes beyond the marketplace. The third baseman acknowledges that he is uncertain how much longer he wants to remain in the game, even as some surprising milestones come into view.

Beltre now has 265 career homers, putting him just behind Brooks Robinson (268) for No. 19 in baseball history among third baseman. (For the full list, click here.) Beltre’€™s relative youth suggests a reasonable possibility that he could join the very short list (Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Chipper Jones and Darrell Evans) of third basemen to hit 400 or more homers in their careers. With 1,813 career hits, he would even appear to have at least a remote chance of 3,000 career knocks.

But the idea of a place in baseball annals serves as little motivation for Beltre when considering how long he wants to play.

‘€œI don’€™t play for goals. I don’€™t play for numbers. I don’€™t care about numbers,’€ said Beltre, who has remained on the field despite a painful left hamstring injury. ‘€œThis game takes a lot out of you. I’€™m a family man. Thank God, I’€™m financially OK. When this game starts getting tougher and you start realizing that you need more time with the kids, to see them growing up, you might hang it up sooner. Who knows?

‘€œIt’€™s not easy to say I’€™m going home, and then you go home and miss the game. It’€™s a tough call. For now I’€™m OK, but I don’€™t know for how long I’€™m going to play.’€

For the Sox and Beltre alike, the future is a less pressing consideration than the fact of the third baseman’s ongoing presence in the lineup. And on Monday, he offered a reminder of how fortunate the Sox are by giving a glimpse in Oakland of what could have been for the A’s.

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