Mariners have long-term decision to make on Adrian Beltre
When free agent Adrian Beltre signed a five-year, $64 million deal with Seattle in December 2004, it signaled a radical change in the Mariners'...
Seattle Times staff columnist
When free agent Adrian Beltre signed a five-year, $64 million deal with Seattle in December 2004, it signaled a radical change in the Mariners' philosophy.
The team and then-general manager Bill Bavasi were giving a signal to Seattle that they were going to be players in the marketplace.
The Mariners spent another $50 million on Richie Sexson that winter, telling fans they understood they no longer could merely open the gates at Safeco Field and expect 35,000 grateful patrons to pour through the turnstiles.
They had lost 99 games in 2004. Lou Piniella was gone. His successor, Bob Melvin, had been fired. GM Pat Gillick was history. A new approach was needed.
The Mariners expected Beltre to be part of a power surge. After all, he hit a big-league-high 48 home runs with the Dodgers in 2004. He was fourth in the National League in batting average (.334), fourth in RBI (121) and fourth in slugging percentage (.629).
He was only 24, and his future was so bright, it was blinding.
The Mariners gave him a huge deal, and by the metrics of the day, he seemed to be worth every million of it.
But he never came close to duplicating that career year with the Dodgers. He never quite earned his $64 million. And as he prepares for surgery on his insistently nagging left shoulder — a surgery that could keep him out of the lineup until the middle of August, or beyond — it's worth looking at the decisions the Mariners face.
Although the surgery should have Beltre back in Seattle this season, there are no guarantees. And it is possible he has played his last game as a Mariner.
Certainly, he has muted the Mariners' trade-deadline possibilities. Nobody is going to deal for an aching, out-of-the-lineup third baseman before July 31. But waiver deals still can be made after the trade deadline.
Now the Mariners must weigh the impact of Beltre, who becomes a free agent at the end of the season, on their future.
This is what he hasn't been in Seattle:
• He hasn't been the long-balling, middle-of-the-order threat he was advertised to be. Beltre's best Mariners average was 58 points lower than his final Dodgers year. He hit 22 fewer home runs in his best Mariners season and drove in 22 fewer runs in his best RBI season in Seattle.
• He was a notoriously slow starter, a warm-weather player. In the worst of times, he was a .255 hitter. In the worst of times, he hit 19 home runs. In the worst of times, he drove in 77 runs.
But this is what he has been in Seattle:
• He has been a two-time Gold Glove winner. He has saved scores of runs with remarkable, quick-twitch plays at third.
• He has played the game hard, and it wasn't a lack of work that lowered his production from his 2004 season in the sun.
• As an example of his approach to the game, Beltre played the last two games of this weekend's series against the Dodgers, knowing that at least a dozen times a game the pain in his shoulder was going to feel like he had been stabbed.
He never was the Adrian Beltre the Mariners expected he'd be when they handed him $64 million, but he still is one of the best third basemen in the game. His plusses greatly outweigh his minuses.
So manager Don Wakamatsu now must seek a short-term solution at third, while general manager Jack Zduriencik looks long-term at the position.
(Memo to the manager: Don't move first baseman Russell Branyan to third. He is settled where he is. Don't mess with that. Move Chris Woodward there, and know at least you have a savvy professional replacing Beltre.)
The long-term solution at third base is more problematic, but time is Zduriencik's ally. Before Beltre's return, the direction of the season will be set.
The Mariners either will be in the race or out of it, and Zduriencik will have to decide if signing a healthy Beltre to a three- or four-year deal at a reasonable price is doable.
Is that better than a mid-August waiver deal that will leave the Mariners looking for the next third-base solution?
Just one more complicated question for Wak and Mr. Z in what has been a wondrous Rubik's Cube of a first half of the season.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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