Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Adrian Beltre Market, Version 1.0

This was finished earlier, so all numbers are through 9/6/04.

Part 1: The Supply

If you follow major league baseball, you undoubtedly know about the season Adrian Beltre is having and you probably know just how much it contrasts with his past seasons. Since debuting in 1998 as a 19-year-old, Beltre put up the following batting/on-base/slugging lines and Wins Above Replacement (WARP1):

1998 .215/.278/.369, 0.5
1999 .275/.352/.428, 3.2
2000 .290/.360/.475, 5.9
2001 .265/.310/.411, 3.1
2002 .257/.303/.426, 1.7
2003 .240/.290/.424, 2.8
2004 .338/.385/.652, 10.6

Using Wins Above Replacement, Beltre's having the fifth best season in the major leagues, behind Barry Bonds (12.8), Jim Edmonds (11.9), Mark Loretta (11.7) and Scott Rolen (10.8) and just ahead of Albert Pujols (10.5), Todd Helton (9.9), J.D. Drew(9.6), and A.L. representative Carlos Guillen (9.5). He's also a near lock to double his previous career high.

I've seen lots of analysis that tries to show just how big of an improvement Beltre has made, but I haven't seen much that analyzes the specific ways that that improvement has occurred from a statistical standpoint. To form a better picture of how Beltre has improved, I set out to quantify how he improved in different segments of hitting. I took his counting stats and used them to form several different categories. BB/PA is walks per plate appearance, #P/PA is number of pitches per plate appearance, AB/K is at bats per strikeout, AB/XIP is at bats per extra base hit in play (doubles and triples), AB/HR is at bats per home run, G/F is groundball/flyball ration, and BABIP is batting average on balls in play. The last two columns are for statistics that probably exist in some form in the status quo but that I haven't seen used before. The first is called PSA or Potential Singles Average, which is BABIP except with doubles and triples subtracted from the number of hits and the same number subtracted from the number of at bats. I used this to account for my suspicion that hitters have a good deal of control over whether a ball in play will be a double and that a player's doubles total has more to do with the hitter than the defense and pitchers the hitter faces. BABOP is Batting Average on Balls Out of Play, a kind of junk tool calculated by HR/(SO + HR).

Year BB/PA #P/PA AB/K AB/XIP AB/HR G/F BABIP PSA BABOP
1998 0.066 3.49 5.27 21.67 27.86 1.05 0.232 0.183 0.1591
1999 0.1 3.65 5.124 16.81 35.87 1.16 0.318 0.262 0.125
2000 0.098 3.95 6.375 15.94 25.5 1.07 0.312 0.254 0.2
2001 0.055 3.83 5.793 18.27 36.54 1.09 0.297 0.246 0.1368
2002 0.058 3.75 6.063 18.77 27.71 0.99 0.277 0.226 0.1795
2003 0.061 3.8 5.427 17.47 24.3 1.09 0.251 0.192 0.1825
2004 0.073 3.73 6.932 18.74 11.5 1.06 0.326 0.276 0.3761










Beltre's first two full seasons were both good and, together with his debut season, show a pretty reasonable improvement curve, with his walk rate staying the same and his home run and strike out rates steadily and significantly improving. Everything changes in 2001, when his power (both in-park and out of the park) fades, his strike out rate regresses, and his walk rate tumbles. Most Dodger fans could tell you this was related in some way to his botched appendectomy, which was almost bad enough to take his life. When he was expected to revert to pre-appendectomy form in 2002, however, he wasn't quite able to do so. His power and strikeout rates rebounded most of the way, but his walk rate stayed as low as it had been in 2001 and the frequency with which his balls in play became singles was significantly lower. In 2003, Beltre's power rates increased marginally, his walk rate increased insignificantly, his strikeoute rate regressed, and his PSA turned to mush. In 2004, his strikeout rate is a career low, his walk rate is an improvement over 2001-2003, and he's hitting a ton of home runs and getting a ton of singles on balls in play.

One important thing to note is that Beltre's dominance this year has come from his hitting against right-handed pitchers. His numbers against left-handed pitchers in 2004 compared to his numbers in 2001-2003 show improvement but not dominance:


BA OBP SLG AB/K AB/XIP AB/HR SO/HR BABIP BABOP
2001-3 0.265 0.315 0.45 6.582 24.13 22.63 3.4375 0.275 0.225352
2004 0.281 0.346 0.474 8.143 16.29 22.8 2.8 0.284 0.263158










Against lefties, his plate discipline has improved but the sample size is too small to conclude much else. Against right-handed pitching, however, the difference is tremendous:


BA OBP SLG AB/K AB/XIP AB/HR SO/HR BABIP BABOP
2001-3 0.25 0.296 0.412 5.571 19.98 30.71 5.5122 0.276 0.153558
2004 0.355 0.396 0.704 6.644 19.6 10.05 1.5128 0.337 0.397959










Beltre is doing everything better this year against RHP except drawing walks and hitting doubles. And everything he's doing better he's doing better by a great amount. The most obvious difference is that he's hitting home runs three times as often. Combined with his reduced K rate, he's gone from striking out eleven times for every two home runs to only striking out three times for every two home runs. When a left-handed player suddenly starts to hit lefties much better, the prevalent baseball discourse talks about how the player has finally "got it" (see the talk about Eric Chavez this season), but when a right-handed hitter does the same thing it's simply a breakout season. This is, of course, understandable given that right-handed pitching predominates in major league baseball and because the platoon split for left-handed hitters is considered to depend greatly on the individual hitter whereas the platoon split for right-handed hitters is considered to be largely universal in magnitude. I imagine that a 25-year-old right-handed hitter who has a breakout year derived from killing right-handed pitchers rather than getting a lot of production from scarce at bats against southpaws does, in any event, portend rather well for the staying power of that improvement.

The three major skills most likely for a hitter to maintain over time are home run power, drawing walks, and striking out. If Beltre continues to do these things at more or less the rate he has done them this year, he will be among the most valuable players in baseball. To see if this is likely to stick, we should probably compare Beltre to players in the past who have had similar giant leaps.

I've seen Troy Glaus' name thrown around as a Beltre comparable, but I just don't see it.Every year of his career he's struck out a ton, hit a bunch of home runs, and drawn a ton of walks.His great 2000 did see a big increase in power that was somewhat comparable to Beltre's; Glaus went from a .210 ISOP to a .320 ISOP, which is similar to Beltre's improvement this year from .184 to .310. On the other hand, Beltre had been playing for five and a half seasons before this year while Glaus was a 23-year-old who had only played a year and a third prior to that season. Furthermore, Beltre and Glaus are very different hitters outside of the home runs. Glaus hits for low averages, draws a lot of walks, and strikes out with great frequency. As is typical of many hitters, his career high in home runs corresponded with his career high in strikeouts, whereas Beltre's improvement has featured a reduction in strikeouts.Glaus' isolated discipline (OBP - BA) in 2000 was .120, and Beltre's is .050.

Any time a player suddenly starts to hit home runs, Brady Anderson comparisons abound. In this case, though, Brady Anderson really doesn't compare unproblematically. For One, Anderson was 32 years old and had been in the major leagues longer. At that point, he had established a very solid performance level: in the four preceding seasons, he was an everyday player with a BA between .262 and .271, and OBP between .356 and .373, and an SLG between .419 and .449. Furthermore, Brady Anderson's power increase corresponded with a big increase in strikeouts.

Another place to look for comparables is Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA cards, which, prior to the season, generate a list of similar player-years (i.e., Bobby Bonds at age 26) based on a player's age, major and minor league performance, and athleticism. Of the 20 players listed as comparables, only four saw a significant increase in power production: Robin Yount, Granny Hamner, Brooks Robinson, and Roberto Clemente.

Proportionally, Clemente had the biggest spike in home runs, going from 4 in 1959 to 16 in 1960 at age 25, but even in 1960 that was hardly comparable to Beltre's current 44, and Clemente also logged 32% more at bats than he had in 1959. Clemente was similar to Beltre in his inability to draw many walks and his obvious raw talent, but the similarities more or less end there. Clemente had also had a high batting average in each of the two preceding years, and his improvement in Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) was only .044. He also struck out a bit more often in 1960 than he had to that point in his career.

Granny Hamner nearly doubled his home run total at age 25, going from 9 in 1951 to 17 in 1952. A nice improvement, but it also came with a substantial increase in strike outs and wasn't a whole lot of home runs to start with; if you use the Davenport translations, Hamner had 25 home runs, but Beltre has 54 home runs.

The 25-year-old Brooks Robinson looks encouraging, but isn't a great comparable either. For one, Robinson had been an above average hitter in each of his three previous seasons. For another, Robinson's power increase wasn't of the same magnitude as Beltre's (from 8 to 25 using Davenport Translations versus Beltre's 24 to 54) and coincided with a significant reduction in doubles. Moreover, Robinson struck out a lot more that year than he had ever before done in his career.

I am tempted to say the closest match on the PECOTA card was 24-year-old Robin Yount in 1980, but there's really nothing to make his case better than any of the others. Using our DT home run magnitude comparison again, Yount went from 10 to 29 while striking out a bit more frequently. Yount was substantially better against RHP than LHP that year, but he was terrible against LHP in 1979 and much of his improvement actually came from hitting southpaws better.

Another comparison I'd heard of was Ruben Sierra's age 23 1989 season. Sierra did see a surge in batting average and isolated power that year, and he did strike out less than he had the year before. Moreover, Sierra did improve his numbers against RHP by a lot that year, though he was still much better against LHP. Sierra's 1989 was somewhat bizarre in that it was aided by 14 triples, something I can't really explain, although he hit more 3B/AB in his rookie year. Sierra did have a nice improvement in home run power (using the DT's. he went from 30 in each of his previous seasons to 40 and only logged a few more at bats). On the other hand, his increases in ISOP and SLG were not even close to Beltre's this year. Plus, Sierra was a younger player with less than three seasons experience prior to that year. So Sierra's improvement was vaguely familiar to Beltre's, but I don't think it's close enough to think he's a helpful comparable in assessing Beltre's future.

Yet another comparison I've seen has been Sierra's 1991 age-25 season, but that came on the heels of two above-average seasons, including the very good 1989, and the increase in home runs was fairly marginal.

Ron Santo scores highest on Beltre's comparables by age at Baseball-Reference.com, but he didn't really have a breakout season. His age-23 season was a lot better than his age-22 season, but not as good as his age-21 season. His age-24 and age-26 season were his best, and neither one was caused by a big increase in home run power. All in all, there doesn't appear to be anything about Santo that can illuminate Beltre's situation.

I decided to go searching for comparable improvements to Beltre. Using Baseball-Reference.com's leaderboards for each season from 1946 to 2003, I checked every player who finished in the top five in either league in either home runs or who were one of the five youngest players in the league. This isn't ideal, but given that Beltre was the youngest player in the major leagues when he debuted and leads the majors in home runs this season, anybody very close to Beltre would be discovered using this methodology. For each player, I checked to see if they had any seasons that saw a dramatic increase in home runs per at bat in a season before age 27. I discarded any players who had had two or fewer full seasons at the major league level. I also pared off a few players whose totals were super-inflated by changes in park factor and whose adjusted home run totals weren't substantial improvements. I was left with a metric ton of players who saw their home run totals go up because (gasp!) they started to swing for the fences and had ballooning strikeout totals. After eliminating these players, I was left with a very select group of players. It should be stressed that it is extremely rare for a player to start launching home runs while reducing their strikeout total or even while their strikeout total remains the same. There were only four players I considered worthy of discussion.

Bob Bailey saw his power numbers increase by about the same as Beltre's have in his age-27 1970 season. Using Davenport Translations, his AB/HR went from 27.2 to 12.3 (versus 22.6 to 11.1 for Beltre) while he struck out a bit less frequently. It was his eighth full season in the major leagues. Bailey also drew a ton of walks and his batting average was good but not in the same league as Beltre's, which problematizes comparison. Furthermore, he was two and a half years older than Beltre that season. All of that is dwarfed, though, when one considers how Bailey put up those numbers. He was used at the four corners (1B, 3B, LF, RF) as basically a platoon player, logging only 352 at bats on the season and having almost half of his plate appearances against LHP. Though he had a fine season against RHP, his .280/.391/.540 line against them came in 236 plate appearances and his overall numbers were boosted by hitting a whopping .284/.406/.663 against LHP. And while he improved as a hitter against RHP from his 1969 season, it was not by such a great magnitude; his breakout came mainly because he'd hit only .269/.329/.356 against LHP in 1969. In 1971, he was an everyday starter and predictably declined because he wasn't very good against RHP and had to face them 424 times, going .229/.343/.354 while seeing his power production against southpaws decline as well. Overall, Bailey's raw numbers indicate similarity to Beltre's year, but the comparison just doesn't hold up well.

Bill Freehan's age-25 season in 1967 saw an increase in home runs and strike outs, but should probably be discounted for two reasons. First, his power level isn't all that high-- using DT's again, his AB/HR was 18.96 versus Beltre's 11.15. Second, the bulk of his improvement came from hitting LHP much better than he had previously, as his .260/.345/.406 line against RHP was an improvement on his career to that point but not by a whole lot.

Rico Petrocelli is a pretty obvious comparison (or at least, if you research it for several days it seems that way). He played most of 1969 at age 25 and had a tremendous season with a .329 EqA. His Davenport Translated AB/HR improved from 24.06 to 13.05 while his DT'd AB/SO improved from 5.53 to 7.23. Petrocelli did draw a lot more walks than Beltre does, but otherwise was pretty similar. He had had four previous seasons in the major leagues with only one season with an EqA over .260 (.277 in 1969). Moreover, his improvement came against RHP: he went from .236/.299/.377 against RHP in 1968 versus .313/.414/.625 in 1969. Petrocelli would never come close to repeating his 1969. While still playing regularly in 1970, '71, and '72 he had EqA's of .282, .292, and .273-- well above average but certainly not spectacular. His skills against RHP dissolved, with his best season against them after '69 coming in '71 at .245/.351/.460. He missed a lot of time due to injuries in each season from 1973 to 1976 due to injuries and was generally ineffective at the plate when he did play during this time. He ended his career following the '76 season.

Perhaps the most outlandish comparable possible outside of Babe Ruth is Barry Bonds, and this is not a laughable comparison for Beltre. In his age 21-24 seasons, Bonds hit very well but not for a ton of power and not for much average. That changed in 1990, when, using DT's, his AB/HR rose from 20.74 to 12.6. His strikeout rate stayed the same while his batting average grew from .248 to .301. Furthermore, Bonds, who you almost certainly know hits left-handed, faced southpaws 276 times in 1990 and hit .305/.388/.594 against them (versus .296/.420/.539 in 345 PA against RHP), including hitting the majority of his home runs against them, bearing a vague similarity to Beltre. On the other hand, Bonds had been better against LHP than he had been against RHP in each of the past two seasons and had overall been a very good player due to his high walk rates, something which cannot be said for Beltre. This is not a terribly good comparison, but it's one that kind of has to be made.

So basically we are left with only one good comparable, Rico Petrocelli. Despite having a very nice-sounding name, Rico's baseball career does not indicate good things to come for Adrian Beltre. At the same time, though, Rico Petrocelli is not a sufficient sample size to judge the career paths of players who start hitting home runs at age 25 while decreasing their strikeouts. So it's true that the only example we have shows that a player can start hitting home runs while cutting back on strikeouts one year but lose much of those skills in subsequent seasons (although it should be noted that from 1970-72 Petrocelli was a very good player and was much better than pre-'69), that example is 35 years old and doesn't tell us nearly as much as we wish it could.

Without history as a useful guide, perhaps we can find more evidence in Beltre's in-season trends. I divided 2003 and 2004 into two month periods and got these results:


BB/PA AB/K AB/XIP AB/HR BABIP PSA BABOP
3/31-5/30 0.057 5.364 13.62 44.25 0.229 0.15 0.1081
5/31-7/30 0.079 5.7 17.1 42.75 0.277 0.22 0.1176
7/31-9/30 0.049 5.275 23.44 14.07 0.263 0.22 0.2727
4/1-5/31 0.035 7.346 19.1 15.92 0.314 0.27 0.3158
6/1-7/31 0.099 7.783 17.9 10.53 0.324 0.27 0.425
8/1-9/5 0.087 5.667 19.43 9.067 0.351 0.3 0.3846








Basically, starting with his home run on July 31, 2003 Beltre has hit a lot of home runs and the general trend over time is toward improvement on this front. His walk rate has improved with the rest of his play. His strikeout rate was stagnant in 2003 but got much better until August 2004 when it reverted to previous form. Looking more carefully, most of Beltre's home runs in the June/July 2004 segment came in July and so did most of his strikeouts, so it would be fair to argue he's had two different phases in 2004: April-June, 15.3 AB/HR, 8.53 AB/K; July-September, 8.64 AB/HR, 5.54 AB/SO. Either one of those is terrific. The increasing strikeout rate in the second half is alarming, but it's mainly a product of swinging for home runs and it's pretty much the same as his career K rate and is better than league average. Moreover, the resulting BABOP for the second half is .391 versus .358 for the first half, so it's certainly a preferable trend. That he changed his approach so substantially in the middle of the year does bring up a lot of questions, but there can't be much debate that he's demonstrated that he can be a very good home run hitter and that the majority of players who demonstrate this tend to remain good home run hitters for several years. Given the clear talent level that Beltre had before starting his career (he was once widely regarded as the top prospect in baseball) and the extinuating circumstances related to his appendectomy season, I would argue that he's likely to more or less maintain his current power level. Whether his walk rate will improve is anyone's guess, but it seems likely.

So far I haven't talked about his BABIP and PSA, which show a remarkable linear improvement. I can't tell you how much of that is luck and how much is talent. I took the trouble to calculate the league average PSA for the NL for each year of Beltre's career and calculated Beltre's PSA+ (100*(PSA/lgPSA)):

1998 .246; 74.5
1999 .248; 105.3
2000 .244; 104.1
2001 .241; 102.0
2002 .241; 93.6
2003 .240; 80.0
2004 .243; 113.8

Beltre's career PSA+ is 95.9, and if you arbitrarily exclude 2003 (just for kicks, I suppose) that climbs to 101.9. I would guess that Beltre suffered from bad luck and a bad approach in 2002-2003 and is benefiting from a better approach and better luck this year. The stats at The Hardball Times show that Beltre's Line Drive Percentage has been a hair above league average (.184 versus .182) and his groundball to flyball ratio is better than league average, so one might expect a BABIP in the range of .300-.310 and a PSA of a hair or two over league average. To see what he'd look like with average luck, I refigured his numbers if he had a league average PSA and came up with .319/.367/.633. Using the batter's quality of pitching opposition statistics at Baseball Prospectus, I adjusted Beltre's numbers for average competition and came up with .331/.360/.650, which translates to a .324 GPA (versus his actual .336 GPA). So Beltre's actual performance, even when accounting for luck and opposition, isn't too far ahead of his expected performance based on his peripherals.

Anyone who checks the win shares stats at the Hardball Times has probably noticed that Beltre trails Scott Rolen by quite a bit. The main reasons for this are several. First, the Dodgers as a team have performed about equal to their run expectancy while the Cardinals have outperformed theirs by several games, resulting in more wins to be shared. Furthermore, the Dodgers have scored fewer runs than their Runs Created expectancy, and the THT formula penalizes this. Additionally, Rolen has two thirds of a win share advantage in fielding because he's been slightly better and the Cardinals pitchers give up more ground balls than the Dodgers (UPDATE: Studes clarified to me that this probably isn't the case; the THT stats adjust for the team's balls in play and G/F; some of the difference can still be explained by the Cardinals' better record vs. run expectancy, however). Finally, as of the last update in the THT stats Rolen had a .371 batting average with runners in scoring position versus Beltre's .293, and BA/RISP counts for a lot in the THT stats. (Thanks to Studes for helping me on these differences.) I don't think the first three differences between the two say much about what we should expect from Beltre, but the batting average with runners in scoring position might.

I investigated Beltre's situational hitting using the splits at ESPN.com. CloseLate is defined as plate appearances in the 7th inning or later with the player's team tied or ahead by one or with the tying run on deck. SP2Out is RISP with 2 outs. Here's Beltre in 2004:


BB/PA AB/K AB/XIP AB/HR BABIP PSA BABOP
Empty 0.604 6.64 17.44 9.3 0.3620.309 0.417
On first0.495 6.86 13.71 19.2 0.25 0.191 0.263
RISP 0.112 7.71 32.75 14.56 0.246 0.218 0.529
RISP/2Out0.145 7.38 29.5 9.83 0.311 0.28 0.429
CloseLate 0.057 5.53 27.67 7.55 0.386 0.4040.423








Beltre has been very good with the bases empty and merely good with runners in scoring position. In the most high-leverage situations, however, he has been very, very good. Given the small sample size for RISP and his relatively low PSA in those cases, I think it's fair to argue that going forward Beltre is not a worse hitter in high-leverage situations, and could be a better one.

Another concern has been that Beltre is only performing well now because he wants to drive up his price in the offseason and that when rewarded with a big contract he will revert to earlier form. I don't really agree with this argument for several reasons. First, if he had played well in earlier seasons he would have earned more in arbitration or perhaps earned a long-term contract, so it doesn't seem likely that he would scheme to perform well this year only. Furthermore, if Beltre works hard he can easily be employed in baseball through his late 30's, so he will continue to have incentive to perform well in the early years of contracts because playing well only in "contract years" is very likely to kill his market value. Plus, Beltre might actually have, like, a soul and want to be good at what he does. I know he doesn't look like Official Heart and Soul Team Player Paul Lo Duca, but I would venture to guess that he plays with all the same heart/courage/soul/intangibles but just lacks the small physical stature that allows players like Lo Duca to be hailed as intangibles machines. Sure, he might be baseball's Rickey Williams and quit in 2006 to smoke pot and travel the world, but I don't know of anything that indicates such a scenario is at all plausible.

Overall, the forecast for Beltre's offense looks good. He might regress like Rico Petrocelli, and he might throw hack columnists nationwide a bone by being terrible by being unmotivated and playing poorly once he gets a new contract, but both events seem unlikely. Upon close examination, his struggles over the past few years don't look like "inconsistency" but rather like a player who hit a low point and took awhile to improve and then improved linearly and rapidly. Given how good of a season he's having now, a season like his current one shouldn't be expected, but a season nearly as productive probably should be expected.

Moreover, Beltre's defense at third base appears to be improving significantly. His range factor this season betters his career high, and his zone rating and error rate are both way ahead of his previous career highs. In 2003, Tom Tippett wrote that Beltre probably should have won the N.L. Gold Glove, and though Rolen's defensive rebound probably means he's a slightly better third baseman this year, Beltre's all-around defensive improvement makes him a tremendous asset. Even if his offense crashes, his defensive value can pick up some of the slack.

Part 2: The Demand

To determine Beltre's market value, it's important to consider where he could land.

Several teams simply won't be in the market for a third baseman at all. The A's have Eric Chavez. The Rangers have Hank Blalock. Between Eric Hinske and their financial limitations and philosophy, the Blue Jays are not relevant to the discussion. If the Red Sox don't want to simply give the job to Kevin Youkilis, they can pick up Mueller's option for just $2.1 million dollars, and they need to allocate their money elsewhere. We'll likely see either Chipper Jones or Andy Marte starting at third for Atlanta next season, and Marte is the future either way. Mike Lowell will, I imagine, exercise his $14m option to stay with Florida, and if he doesn't Miguel Cabrera would move back to third. The Mets have uber-prospect David Wright. Philadelphia has all four of its infielders locked up, with David Bell at third and producing offensively. St. Louis is fine with Scott Rolen. One can only assume Selig's crew in Milwaukee will try to stick it out with Russell Branyan since they have no documented financial means to acquire a top-tier free agent. The 2005 Pirates will trot out Ty Wigginton, presumably as a reminder to Pittsburgh fans that they could have gotten better value for Kris Benson. (Perhaps Wigginton needed that notorious New York media pressure to succeed, as he's gone .194/.273/.269 since the trade. Not that anyone has reason to have noticed.) The Giants invested in Alfonzo and Durham, so unless they decline Grissom's $2m option and move Durham to centerfield and Alfonzo to second, they’re out of the picture. Not that they could afford a free agent position player anyway. The Padres will bank on Sean Burroughs improving, and they don't have money to spend anyway. Arizona will stick with Chad Tracy. Garrett Atkins should take over for Coorsophile Vinny Castilla in Colorado.

In Minnesota, Corey Koskie is a free agent, but Terry Tiffee should be good as his replacement, and the Twins still have Michael Cuddyer. It wouldn't make any sense for the Twins to keep Koskie with the in-house replacements they have, especially considering that they should be spending whatever financial resources they have on improving the rotation after Santana/Radke and replacing Guzman and Rivas with players who are, you know, above replacement level. The Twins are actually in a position to improve a good deal in the offseason, and if they get wise to Guzman and Rivas, trade Jacque Jones for something useful and give his job to Jason Kubel, and use their in-house replacements at third they'll probably win their fourth straight division title. In any event, however, they're not a Beltre contender, but Koskie's availability definitely affects Beltre's situation.

Unless the tooth fairy intervenes to pay Mike Sweeney's contract, the Royals cannot afford Beltre. Joe Randa has been a subpar third baseman, and the Royals might pay to keep that on the team or might try to start Mark Teahen's service clock early while he's not ready or might replace him with random spare parts or might cash in on a weak Koskie market (though I doubt that). Whatever they do, it won't be too exciting.

The Yankees' free spending ways are certainly scary, but they probably won't be in the Beltre market. There has been much talk of Derek Jeter changing positions, either to second base or to centerfield, but neither is very likely because he's still a Proven Leader. Furthermore, Derek Jeter has had a terrific defensive season, and his Zone Rating, Range Factor, and Rate2's are all about the same as A-Rod's were last season. I don't see the Yankees changing Jeter's position, and thus I don't see them changing A-Rod's position either. If the Yankees spend any money on position players, it will probably be to upgrade second base. The problem is, the pickings are pretty slim at second base. I don't know if they would prefer Placido Polanco, Mark Bellhorn, Todd Walker, or decline phase Jeff Kent, but chances are they'll go for one of those (not that Miguel Cairo is all that worse, but I doubt George wants to stand pat with him at second) and spend the rest of their cash on their pitching (unless they decide to sit both Lofton and Williams and shell out the big bucks for Carlos Beltran).

The Tigers have the Inge/Munson platoon playing at third right now, which is decent. Inge has a .477 SLG and Munson has a .465 SLG, but Inge's is aided by a .295 AVG and Munson's is hindered by a .219 AVG. Inge draws a fair number of walks and Munson draws even more. Munson's BABIP isn't very good, but neither is his LD%; the real reason for Munson's low batting average is that he simply strikes out with great frequency. There's not an abundance of reasons to believe Inge will continue playing quite this well, but his performance probably doesn't look prone to drop much below league average. Basically, the Tigers could reasonably expect this duo to be about league average offensively (with one getting there via Three True Outcomes and the other by all-around averageness) and pretty good defensively. With both players fairly inexpensive for the next two years, the Tigers don't have much reason to acquire an elite third baseman. They will probably be able to spend a little in the offseason, but that money should go to the rotation and a centerfielder.

Odds are that the Orioles aren't interested in a top-flight third baseman since already have one in Melvin Mora, but given his defensive struggles this season it's not out of the realm of possibility for Baltimore to pursue one and move Mora back to the outfield or perhaps to first base. Not at all likely, but possible given Angelos' apparent big splash philosophy.

A top-flight free agent third baseman is not in the Devil Rays' budget, and Aubrey Huff's defense at third is bad but not so bad they need to get him out of there. Corey Koskie might make sense here if the market is slow, but that's all they can afford.

The Astros will probably focus on Berkman and Beltran first. With Kent a free agent, whatever money's left over will probably go to second base since Lamb/Ensberg are nothing special but they can pass as major leaguers.

With the out-o-matic Tony Batista the 2004 third baseman, the Expos could have been the wild card in this discussion if their new ownership wanted to spend, but the acquisition of Brendan Harris in the Cabrera-Garciaparra-Mientkiewicz-Gonzalez-Murton-Beltran-Jones deal means that that money wouldn't be spent at the hot corner.

The Angels have $41.75m invested in 5 outfielders in 2005, and one plays first base (Erstad) and one's likely done for (Salmon). Then they have $17m invested in two starting pitchers. If they resign everybody they have control over, their payroll comes in somewhere under 80 million. They'll probably have to invest whatever else Arte Moreno is willing to spend in the starting pitching market.

If you're reading this, chances are you've heard of Dallas McPherson. He's the Angels top prospect and he plays third base.It is extremely unlikely that the Angels would invest any money on a third baseman with McPherson definitely ready to play in the big leagues. The Angels could resign Troy Glaus and use him as the DH if, as it appears, Tim Salmon will not be available or effective. I guess this mainly depends on how Glaus' health turns out and whether he'll be a suitable defensive third baseman, although his defense even when healthy might not be good enough to keep him at third. The Angels could overpay for Glaus, but I would have to think they'd let him walk if he's asking for anything more than DH money.

The Indians current third baseman is Casey Blake. Blake is having something of a breakout year, but banking on him is a pretty big risk since there's little risk he'll play better than he's playing now and there's a solid chance he'll have a poor year. He's hitting .277/.359/.499, which is pretty good for someone in their second full year at the major league level. On the other hand, he just turned 31 and developed pretty slowly in the minors after college. He's outperforming his 90th percentile PECOTA projection, and he's also not a great defensive third baseman (a Rate2 of 90). So it may be possible that Cleveland would decide that Blake is most valuable splitting time at first base with Josh Phelps (figuring that they'll probably see one of the two perform well), sign a third baseman, and then deal one or both of their first-baseman-overperforming-their-90th-percentile-PECOTA combo (Merloni and Broussard) for prospects. Of course, it's the Indians' piching staff that could use the most improvement. But given the risks involved in free agency, my guess is that Cleveland will hold out for improvements from Cliff Lee and Jason Davis. If they think Grady Sizemore is ready, this will probably be the case since they could deal Jody Gerut or Coco Crisp for a cheap, average young starter or Matt Lawton for an overpriced average 30-ish starter, making room for Grady Sizemore in the lineup. When one of their starting five inevitably falters, they have Andrew Brown, Francisco Cruceta or Kenny Rayborn waiting in the wings and probably one of the three will be ready. The Indians do have to consider Corey Smith, the 22-year-old third baseman they drafted in the first round in 2000.Smith had a decent 2004 repeating double-A, improving his OBP-BA from .069 to .102 and his ISOP from .126 to .173, but a slight increase in his strikeout frequency lowered his BA to .249 in the slightly pitcher-friendly Eastern League. He could pan out, but hasn't done anything that should prevent Cleveland from pursuing better 3B options at the major league level. All in all, I can't find any reason to believe that signing Beltre would be a bad idea from a personnel standpoint.

Pretty much every player of consequence for the Indians has little MLB service time and will be re-signed inexpensively in the off-season. According to Dugout Dollars, the Indians still owe Ricky Gutierrez $0.75m and Matt Lawton and C.C. Sabathia are signed for 6.75 and 2.38 million dollars, respectively. With the Gutierrez, Wickman, Belliard, and Vizquel contracts coming off the books, the Indians will could probably field their team for about $30 million next year if they decided to let Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Phillips take over in the middle of the infield on the basis of their strong years in triple-A (offensively Peralta is definitely ready but Phillips may need another year in AAA, though his production equaled Sizemore's this year; I couldn't tell you how their defense is other than that they've been error-prone at AAA). Their 2004 payroll clocks in at just under $42m, and even if they want to spend some of that cash to re-sign Ronnie Belliard and maybe a decent reliever or two, there should be enough money left over that a big signing like Beltre isn't out of the question. Mark Shapiro has said (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1655) that the Indians aren't likely to pursue a long-term contract strategy, but in the same interview indicated he thought ownership might step up to the plate and increase payroll if the Indians were on the cusp of being a championship team, and that could very well describe how ownership sees the 2005 Indians. So Cleveland probably won't pursue Beltre in a bidding war, but if the market is weak and everyone else is cautious, the Indians make a compelling darkhorse candidate.

For the Cubs, Aramis Ramirez has had his best season this year, and he's done it in pretty much the exact same way Beltre has: hitting a lot more home runs against right-handed pitchers and striking out a lot less against right-handed pitchers. Given that Ramirez has hit 18 homers at Wrigley and 9 on the road while Beltre has hit 21 at Chavez Ravine and 23 on the road, though, it's clear that a significant portion of his rebound can be attributed to the Friendly Confines. I don't know how enamored the Cubs are with Ramirez, but they do seem like a decent fit for each other. They probably won't be in position to spend a great deal on a third baseman since they will very likely spend to keep Nomar Garciaparra and will need to address their second base situation (Todd Walker will be a free agent, and they can exercise a $2.5m option on Mark Grudzielanek). They maybe could save a little by declining Moises Alou's option, and Jason Dubois might not be a bad replacement for him. I don't know how likely that is, especially with Dusty Baker's proven veteran M.O. They also could let Nomar walk and go for Ed "Gookie Dawkins" Burns at shortstop, but given his track record that's even more problematic than Jason Dubois. All in all, I'd expect Aramis Ramirez to re-sign with the Cubs, with Koskie being a more likely replacement than Beltre.

The White Sox are currently getting pretty terrible production at the hot corner. Joe Crede has hit .232/.294/.406, which is replacement level, while providing league-average defense. The Sox don't have anyone in the minors who would likely improve on that. Crede was pretty good playing the final third of 2002 but was not good last year and has been worse this year. PECOTA predicted a rebound for him in 2004 and a solid performance over each of the next five years, but that hasn't happened. He's basically performing to his 25th percentile PECOTA level (.240/.292/.413). It's a little encouraging that his BB/PA this season is slightly higher than his 90th percentile BB/PA. Furthermore, his batting average on balls in play has been a pretty bad .239, indicating that maybe his low batting average is a fluke. However, I don't think you can wring much encouragement from either of those figures because his BB/PA are still well below league average (as is his ISOP), and his .239 BABIP is probably not an indication of bad luck since he has a .149 line drive percentage which is way below league average and translates to an expected BABIP even lower than what he's done. Basically, at age 26 he's striking out, walking, and getting extra base hits at the same frequency as he was last year at age 25 and has a terrible batting average that can't be blamed on misfortune. Furthermore, there are no in-season trends that indicate reason for optimism. His performance was terrible in May and July, bad in April, mediocre in August, and good only in June (almost entirely on the basis of hitting a bunch of doubles). There's not much to indicate that this isn't his true performance level and there's not a lot of reason to expect him to improve substantially. A cautious optimist would probably peg Crede as being in the 30th or 40th percentile of major league starting third basemen and a cautious pessimist would probably peg him as being in the 10th to 20th percentile.

What I think about Joe Crede, however, is irrelevant. First of all, any analysis of the White Sox has to start by acknowledging that, with Ken Williams at the helm, we are arguably not analyzing with a rational actor. Ken Williams' MO has been to make deals that have the appearance of making the club better in the short-term without typically doing so (although the Freddy Garcia deal was something of an exception and was arguably a good deal). If White Sox ownership wants to keep the payroll in the low 70's, they can only sign one major free agent (including potentially re-signing Magglio Ordonez), assuming Frank Thomas exercises his $8 million option. If the White Sox discarded Crede and brought in Beltre, they would probably rely on Joe Borchard to take over in right field. I have no idea if that's something Ken Williams would feel comfortable with, nor do I have much of an idea if that's something he should be comfortable with. His MjEqA at AAA was .236 at age 25, and where he goes from here is a big question mark. One of the big concerns on his PECOTA card was his strikeout to walk ratio, and he did improve that substantially this year. But even if Borchard isn't ready, finding a decent right-fielder at a cheap price is much easier than finding a decent third baseman at a cheap price, and Williams does have a penchant for getting Carl Everett on the roster. With Ordonez' age and injuries a concern, benching Crede, letting Ordonez walk, and signing Beltre would probably be the best move for the White Sox if it is feasible. Of course, Scott Boras' habit of stretching out negotiations might mean the Sox have to decide on Ordonez before they can see if they have a shot at Beltre, so this is not clear-cut. Still, the Sox are a clear potential Beltre contender.

Seattle has a decent amount of payroll flexibility, and will most likely try to spend to improve themselves immediately. With Ichiro, Randy Winn, Raul Ibanez, and Miguel Olivo in place and with Moyer and Pineiro under contract and a slew of pray-they-get-healthy young starting pitching, the Mariners will probably spend mostly on the infield and with maybe fifteen million dollars or so available. With Bret Boone's option having vested and with the Mariners apparently having decided to go with Jose Lopez at shortstop, the Mariners can spend at first and third, presuming they're willing to admit that Spiezio is a sunk cost and just move on. The Mariners probably also haven't convinced themselves that Justin Leone (or Hunter Brown, for that matter) is the long-term answer, and God help Bill Bavasi if he thinks Spiezo or Willie Bloomquist is, so they'll probably be interested in all the corner infielders in the market if they're willing to keep their payroll at the level it has been the last few years.

The Dodgers have no in-house replacement for Beltre unless they do what many suggested the Yankees could have done by having Brian Myrow take over for him. That could turn out well, but isn't likely, especially since Myrow hasn't played at third this season. The Sturtze-for-Myrow deal was good for the Dodgers, but it's major beneficiary has definitely been Boston. Unless the Dodgers resign Beltre, they'll have to sign Glaus, Koskie, or Randa (or Aramis Ramirez, if he's available) or work a trade. Maybe they would trade Hee Seop Choi to accomplish that, plugging Myrow in at first base-- Jim Tracy's allocation of playing time the last week certainly suggests this possibility. But given the public relations issues at hand, the Dodgers will likely get the best value from re-signing Beltre unless the market drives his price way up. Looking at the finances, they should have sufficient money to upgrade the rotation even if Beltre's price tag is on the high side. The Dodgers only have four contracts on the books next season (Dreifort, Green, Ishii, and Weaver, a total of $40.3m), and they can re-sign or arbitrate with Bradley, Brazoban, Carrara, Choi, Cora, Gagne, Grabowski, Izturis, Penny, Dave Ross, Duaner Sanchez, and Werth, so they can bring back most of their team back for about $60-65 million versus a likely $90-95 million payroll cap. If they did that, they'd still need a third baseman and a utility infielder/Cora platoon partner, and they'd probably want to upgrade at catcher and/or left field (depending on what they think of Ross and Werth as everyday players and also on whether Werth can move back to catcher in the offseason). They'd also still need three starters (assuming Ishii is the swingman and Dreifort can return to the bullpen) and a couple of bench players, perhaps including a platoon partner for Hee Seop Choi if it's decided he'll never learn to hit lefties. Given how poor of an investment free agent pitchers tend to be and the relative abundance of corner outfielders, it certainly makes a lot of sense for the Dodgers to allocate a lot of money at third base. This is especially true since the free agent catcher market isn't strong at all, with Jason Varitek, Damian Miller, and Michael Barrett the only free agents to be worth consideration and not a great lot of potential non-tenders. A Jason Kendall trade is certainly possible, but the Pirates would be paying a chunk of his salary if that were to happen, and with the decent likelihood that one of Edwin Jackson, Joel Hanrahan, and Ryan Ketchner will be a competent fifth starter, the Dodgers would still have over $20 million to spend on a third baseman, two starting pitchers, and a handful of role players. I think there's not much chance that Paul DePodesta won't make two or three substantial trades, so all of the above could change, but it's implausible that DePodesta would make trades that took on significant payroll without significantly upgrading the team. All in all, a Beltre re-signing seems the best fit for the Dodgers.

Part 3: The Price

When I started this project, I thought that figuring out the likely asking price for Beltre wouldn't be too hard since I could just look at Scott Boras' recent deals. That didn't work, though, because Boras didn't have any young marquee free agent clients last year. Boras was Andruw Jones' agent when he signed his extension with Atlanta, but that was before the big market correction of the last two offseasons. Boras' big clients last winter, Ivan Rodriguez and Greg Maddux, were both decline-phase veterans, and Rodriguez signed for a 4 years, $40 million, and Maddux got 2 years, $15 million with an option for a third year at $9 million that goes into effect if he pitches 400 innings between 2004 and 2005. Talking heads have argued that Rodriguez and Maddux both let Boras price them out of the markets they preferred, which might be true.

An obvious comparison for Beltre's value is Eric Chavez, who signed a 6-year, 6-million dollar contract extension with the A's earlier this year. Chavez had been a model of consistency throughout his early career, whereas Beltre's current season is better than any of Chavez' but his previous seasons have all been inferior to Chavez' worst full season. While Chavez' deal was an extension and wasn't done during free agency, it will probably be a good baseline for whatever contract Beltre gets. Because of Beltre's past inconsistency, most teams would probably prefer a 4 year, 50 million dollar contract to a 6 year, 60 million dollar contract.

With the market for Beltre being so limited, Scott Boras won't have a lot to work with. I also wonder how representing the bulk of the big free agents on the market will effect Boras' tactics. If someone like Beltre wants to stay in Los Angeles, will he be more willing to cut a deal for a slight discount since he's going to get huge money for Carlos Beltran and J.D. Drew anyway?

Los Angeles, Seattle, and both Chicago teams are the clear frontrunners for Beltre, with only the Indians looking like a strong dark horse candidate. Since Aramis Ramirez and Corey Koskie will almost certainly end up with one of those teams as well, there's not a lot of leverage for Boras to negotiate. If the Cubs decide to stick with Ramirez and the White Sox elect to re-sign Magglio Ordonez and stick with Joe Crede, the market is pretty much down to Seattle, L.A., and possibly Cleveland, plus whomever can be convinced to just sign him and trade away their other options. Given the financial limitations of Seattle and Cleveland, Los Angeles is clearly in the driver's seat.

I'm not sure what the basis for my thinking is in this paragraph, but I think I have a good idea of what will happen. Seattle will sign Koskie, the White Sox will spend on an outfielder and wait out Crede, Cleveland will pray for Casey Blake to keep it up, and the Cubs will hold on to Aramis Ramirez. Beltre will sign with the Dodgers for 5 years at $55 million with an option for a fifth year at $15 million or a $3 million pay out. When all is said and done, the Beltre deal will be a very good one for the Dodgers since he'll be an outstanding player and possibly an MVP-caliber player and a very good one for Beltre since he gets to play on a team in contention instead of hanging out with Willie Bloomquist and the Mariner Moose or with existential headache Ozzie Guillen.

Soon, we'll see just how wrong I am.



Comments:
Well, nice piece of work man...

But I still prefer the Archie Cianfrocco tribute. He was one of those guys whose name (and presence!) mesmerized me into the delusionnal certainty that *he* was the one. Shawn Berry never had a chance. He couldn't do better. It was a mistake.

I bet the guy is still more widely known in Montreal today than Terrmel Sledge ever will be.

Oh, and Bret Barberie was an awful, awful, awful defensive third baseman. Ugly footwork, shifty, nervous attitude, etc... Cannon for an arm tough. I think Felipe just got tired of ducking Barberie's rockets whilst trying to watch the game...

As for Beltre, he'd sure make a nice replacement for Tony batista, but I don't think you meant the *Montreal* Expos, so I'll just go brood somewhere else, wondering what could have been.
 
I don't know about Barberie's defense being bad-- the Baseball Prospectus stats have him significantly above average (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/dt/barbebr01.shtml).
 
One word ... overkill and hardly convincing ... Mr. uneducated-sounding Meager. And by the way, get a life .. you are probably losing your hair or never got to play in the Majors (LOL).
 
Actually, I am right. You were a fourth round "also ran" pick for the Giants and merely played in the Minors. Unless, you actually played in the Majors, it simply was a waste of time chump.
 
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