October 10, 2008

Winter Targets: Adrian Beltre

This name probably doesn't jump out as a big surprise. Beltre's name has been linked to the Twins for the last few months, and I've been calling for the Twins to trade him for almost a year now.

Beltre is coming up on the last year of his 5-year $67 million deal that he signed prior to the 2005 season. The last time Beltre played in a contract year, he hit 25 more home runs than his previous season and drove in 41 more runs while increasing his OPS by .303 points, all while finishing second in the MVP voting for that season.

The Seattle Mariners currently are one of the worst teams in the majors, but still sport a payroll well over $100,000,000. The team is getting old, fast and needs to cut both salary and age to try and rebuild. The team has a few players that they are looking to unload in the right deals, and Beltre is one of them. Since he is unlikely to re-sign after the season, the Mariners will look at trading him during the off-season to try and get some sort of compensation that isn't a draft pick (or two).

Beltre fits the Twins need for a third baseman in a few ways. He is a right-hander with good power, he is strong defensively, and he hits left-handed hitters very well. All of those are the things the Twins have on their checklist while looking for a new third baseman, and he fits all of them.

The Twins reportedly tried acquiring Beltre prior to the trade deadline in July, but the Mariners supposedly wanted way too much for the him and wouldn't pay for very much of his remaining salary. At the time, the Mariners were looking for one of the Twins young starting pitchers or Denard Span as starters with other prospects to be included. There's nobody wondering why they didn't make the trade then, especially with the roles that Span and the young starters played in their quest for the Division crown.

Now Beltre is only viewed as a one-year player by some and since it's it's the off-season instead of the deadline, the price to acquire him has certainly gone down. Although with the way the Mariners are currently running their team, it's hard to predict what they're going to do. The club had an opportunity to unload another older, expensive player during August's waiver-wire when the Twins claimed Jarrod Washburn who is being payed nearly $10 million per season to be an ineffective #2 starter on a terrible team. The Twins supposedly offered Boof Bonser in return, but the Mariners declined. So with that said, it's somewhat of a puzzle with trying to predict what the Mariners are going to do. We can all say and think what they should do (fire sale) however the Mariners may try and unload a few guys while retaining others and try to quickly rebuild a team that won 88 games just over a year ago. They still have Ichiro Suzuki, Beltre, Felix Hernandez among a few other solid players that could help them win a championship. However, it's probably easier for them to just cut their losses, and move on completely.

Beltre signed with the Dodgers as a 15-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He made his major league debute as a 19-year-old and became a starter at the age of 20. He's one of baseball's best defensive third basemen and could win a second consecutive gold glove this season. He hit .338/.419/.570 against left-handers last season. In his career, he has an OPS+ of 107 and an OWP of .513. He is extremely valuable and at $11.5 million, you could probably say he's a bargain as well.

Last off-season, the Twins made a couple trades that now - nearly a year later - don't look too good. The Twins have always prided themselves with being very careful when trading players (more specifically with pitchers) and so far Bill Smith definitely doesn't have a great grade in terms of comparing the trades a year later. Although I think it's also safe to say that no trade can be really graded for at least 2-3 years later and that's especially the case in this situation since the Twins aquired multiple prospects.

However I don't really fault Smith for making either of the moves. Matt Garza for Delmon Young (among others) at the time was a trade that many believed the Twins would get the better end when all is said and done. However with the way Garza and Bartlett have played in the playoffs and knowing that they're both key pieces to Tampa Bay's success, makes many people get extremely frustrated with the trade. However I still think it was a fine trade for the Twins because we traded for a player we needed and although it's not in our favor thus far, Young is a special talent and we just need to be patient with him. I still think that the Twins could still very well get the best end of that deal in a few years. Young gets a lot of grief for not hitting 15-20 home runs or playing gold glove defense, but he did play pretty damn good for a 22-year-old.

I think a fair trade for Beltre could be Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing. Both could be major league ready, although I'm sure the general concensus is that Swarzak needs more than just 7 starts in AAA. But he did go 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA in those 7 starts, so he could very well start the season as a member of the Mariners rotation (or bullpen). Duensing doesn't hold a lot of trade value, however he's a solid left-hander and is major league ready. I think the Mariners are definitely getting better than what they'd probably get in draft pick(s) shall Beltre walk away after next season. The Twins could also throw in a player such as Boof Bonser or Brian Buscher to clear room on the roster. I personally would go with a Nick Blackburn or Glen Perkins deal straight up, but at this moment I don't see the Twins trading any of their current starters. At least not for Beltre.

Swarzak is probably the Twins' top starting pitching prospect in the minors and has the potential to be a very good #2 or #3 pitcher in the majors. Duensing is a bulldog who is viewed as a #4-5 starter or a good reliever, but regardless could help the Mariners instantly.

Beltre would likely bat right behind Justin Morneau, however when the team faces southpaws, we could see him split Joe Mauer and Morneau in the lineup.

The Twins have been looking for a third baseman and Beltre's name has and will come up. I'm sure his name will be very popular this off-season and for good reasons. He's the player I'd most-like to see the Twins (realistically) acquire this off-season. Lets get this thing done, Mr. Smith.