|Even Adrian Beltre thought Red Sox made a ‘good decision’ last offseason||10.04.11 at 5:33 pm ET|
The temptation is natural, even unavoidable.
While watching Adrian Beltre club one, two, three homers into the bleachers in Tropicana Field to lead the Rangers past the Rays in the AL Division Series (in the process becoming just the seventh player ever with three homers in a single postseason game), it seemed almost impossible not to wonder about the Red Sox’ decision to let him go last offseason.
Beltre, after all, delivered an excellent first season in Texas following the five-year, $90 million deal he signed last offseason. Though he was limited to just 124 games by hamstring injuries, he was highly productive while on the field, hitting .296 with a .331 OBP, .561 slugging mark, .892 OPS, 32 homers and 105 RBI.
His production did not come as a shock to the Sox, who saw him resurrect his career at age 31 in 2010, when he hit .321 with a .365 OBP, .553 slugging mark, .919 OPS, 28 homers, an AL-leading 49 doubles and 102 RBI in 154 games.
But while the Sox would have loved to have Beltre back in theory, the team instead set in motion the certainty of his departure when it traded for Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres. That deal, in turn, pushed Kevin Youkilis (coming off a three-year run in which he ranked second in the AL in OBP and slugging and third in OPS) from first to third, and meant that Beltre would be heading elsewhere.
For his part, Beltre liked playing in Boston, but he wasn’t entirely certain that he wanted to make his long-term home in Fenway Park. He was certainly open to the idea, but there were other factors that he had to weigh against a deal with the Sox.
“I knew I would have a chance, but I was clear that I didn’t want to commit to it [at the start of the offseason]. Living on the West Coast in LA, my family was going to be a tough decision to move to the East Coast,” Beltre recalled at the All-Star break. “But at the same time I knew that the Boston Red Sox were going to put a good team together to win, and that was my priority – to win. I kind of narrowed down the teams that I wanted to play with, that had interest in me, and Boston was one of them.
“But I didn’t have a chance to say, ‘OK, I do want to go to Boston. The deal is in place – let’s go do it.’ I didn’t have a chance to do it.”
That is because the Sox made the deal for Gonzalez at a time when Beltre represented a contingency.
The Sox liked Beltre, of course, but given his relentless style of play, they also felt uncertain that he would be able to remain healthy enough over the life of a five-year deal. In particular, they had concern about whether his hamstrings (which plagued him at times over the second half of last year) would hold up — a concern that seemingly gained some validation with his DL stints this year.
Meanwhile, as tremendous a player as Beltre had been for the Sox, the team saw in Gonzalez a player who a) would come at a fraction of the salary for the 2011 season and b) was younger, with more of his prime seasons ahead. As for Youkilis, he seemingly represented the better offensive option given his track record, and while he — like Beltre — inspired similar concerns about whether his hard-nosed play would allow him to stay healthy, he was under contract for just two more guaranteed seasons with a team option for a third year, and all at a comparably bargain rate of $12 million in both 2011 and 2012, with a $13 million option for 2013.
The deal occurred in the first days of December, at a time when Beltre was at a celebrity golf tournament being hosted by Red Sox teammate (and then, suddenly, ex-teammate) David Ortiz. It was an uncomfortable moment for Beltre, but beyond the emotion of parting ways with a team for whom he enjoyed playing, he — and, for that matter, virtually everyone else in the baseball industry — endorsed the wisdom of the Sox’ deal.
“I had an idea that [a deal for Gonzalez] was going on,” Beltre recounted at the break. “We were talking [with the Sox] in a conversation about a contract, but they communicated to my agent that they were working [on] something with Adrian [Gonzalez]. I guess they were seeing what would work out better.
“I was a little disappointed at the time. At the time that it happened, I was hanging out with my teammates – my ex-teammates. It was a little awkward,” said Beltre. “But it turned out for the best for them and for me, because I ended up in a place where I’m happy and wanted to be. But you know what? They made a good decision.”
At the season’s mid-point, Beltre was happy with his own decision as well. The Rangers, the reigning AL champs, had confirmed the third baseman’s expectations that they would be in the playoff hunt.
“This has been great,” Beltre said of his time with the Rangers. “It’s been everything I imagined and more, but it’s going to be even better if we do what we need to do, which is win the World Series.”
Now, Beltre has helped Texas take a, well, Texas-sized step towards that goal with his entry into the history books on Tuesday. As for the Sox?
For the second straight year, they were unable to ride a monster season by an Adrian into the postseason. Adrian Gonzalez hit .338 with a .410 OBP, .548 slugging mark, .957 OPS, 27 homers and 117 RBI in 159 games. From afar, the player whose exit from Boston was set in motion by Gonzalez’ arrival was rooting for his corner infield colleague.
“Adrian is a great guy,” said Beltre. “Sometimes when I’m watching him, I want him to get a hit, because I know what kind of guy he is – as long as he’s not playing against us. He’s a guy that comes out and plays everyday. It’s hard not to root for him.”
No doubt there were several Sox players and fans who felt similarly excited to watch Beltre’s landmark game on Tuesday, and to see a respected veteran advance to a League Championship Series for the first time in his 14-year big league career.
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