As we speculated on the night Cliff Lee agreed to his contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Texas Rangers shifted their offseason focus to Adrian Beltre in an attempt to mitigate losing Lee, signing the free agent third baseman to a six-year, $96 million contract. Team officials refused to release the contract details, but agent Scott Boras confirmed the length and dollars with us after the presser, adding that the sixth year can only be voided by the club if Beltre fails to tally a certain number of plate appearances either between 2014 and 2015 or just 2015.
"I think it properly places him in the market," Boras told Unfair Park. "He's an elite third baseman, and his value is at the top rung -- other than A-Rod -- at that position."
Boras, who previously negotiated deals with Texas for Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $252 million), Chan Ho Park (five years, $65 million) and Kevin Millwood (five years, $60 million), says Beltre can compete this year with Evan Longoria for baseball's second-best third baseman next to Rodriguez, neglecting to include David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.
"You try to put ballplayers in places where they can perform at their highest level and it's conducive to them. We finally have him in that place," he says. "We're really excited about the fact that his defensive acumen will show up here because it always will on a baseball diamond. But offensively, he's already in the top five among third baseman, and now he's gonna be in the top two."
Beltre, who turns 32 in April, said he's looking forward to playing his home games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "I've always been a fan of this ballpark," he said.
General manager Jon Daniels, manager Ron Washington, Beltre and Boras all praised Michael Young for his willingness to switch positions to designated hitter. Beltre spoke with Young today but said the conversation was private. Washington said Young will also "have an opportunity to move around the infield," including working at first base in spring training. When pressed about whether Young will play in the outfield after flatly saying "no," Washington said, "Seriously, he will not be in the outfield." He also said he plans to pencil Beltre in the cleanup spot in the lineup behind AL MVP Josh Hamilton, although sometimes he may bat fifth depending on the match-up.
After his spectacular 2004 season (.334, 48 HR, 121 RBI) with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Beltre inked a five-year deal with the Seattle Mariners for $64 million and averaged .266-21-79 over that span, winning Gold Glove awards in '07 and '08. Beltre rebounded after an injury-plagued '09 season to lead all third baseman in batting average (.321) and OPS (.919) last year with the Boston Red Sox, adding 28 homers, a major-league best 49 doubles and 102 RBI.
"It was a fun place to play, but we parted ways," Beltre said about his one year in Boston.
Boras says he sought a deal with Boston so Beltre could prove what he could do in a hitters' ballpark. But despite Beltre's second-best season of his career and his first All-Star Game nod, the Red Sox opted instead to trade a group of prospects to the San Diego Padres for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, which forced Kevin Youkilis to move back to third base.
"Their main thing was Adrian Gonzalez," he says about why the Red Sox balked at re-signing Beltre. "They've always said they wanted the player, and when they got Adrian Gonzalez, we knew that the situation with Adrian Beltre wasn't going to happen."
Daniels stressed that among the former teammates, coaches and trainers he spoke to about Beltre, no one had the "slightest negative thing" to say about him. The deal came together over the weekend, although he said there were "substantial conversations" for at least two weeks between the two parties. While he's confident about the team as currently composed, Daniels said, "There are still some things out there we may look into."
Twenty-one players earned more last year than Beltre's $16 million annual salary, including several who haven't met expectations after signing long-term contracts, such as Todd Helton, Barry Zito and Alfonso Soriano.
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In other Rangers news, Bert Blyleven is headed to the Hall of Fame on his 14th attempt, grabbing 79.7 percent of the vote (75 percent is required for induction), with Rafael Palmeiro (11 percent) and Juan Gonzalez (5 percent) falling short significantly in their first attempts. Jim Sundberg, who caught Blyleven's no-hitter in 1977, says he's long thought Blyleven deserved to be in the Hall.
"He had the best curveball I ever caught," he told Unfair Park, adding that Blyleven was "a great competitor."