Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre got his 3,000th career hit on Sunday, becoming just the 31st player in Major League Baseball to ever reach that milestone. Before the 2017 season is finished, Beltre could realistically pass Roberto Clemete (with whom he is tied at 3,000), Al Kaline (3,007), Wade Boggs (3,010), Cap Anson (3,011), Rafael Palmeiro (3,020), and Lou Brock (3,023) on the all time hits list. The 38 year old has had a great career and continues to be a productive player, though it took him a while for the general baseball viewing audience to fully appreciate how good he has been. Chief among those who overlooked Beltre are the Boston Red Sox, who had him for a year and let him walk in free agency.
Adrian Beltre signed with the Red Sox for the 2010 season, a one year, $9 million deal. That season was productive by any measure. He hit 28 home runs, led the Majors with 49 doubles, led the Red Sox with a .321 batting average, and was tied with David Ortiz for most RBI’s on the team with 102. That year, the Red Sox missed the postseason for the first time since 2006, and they let Beltre walk in free agency, but that was just the beginning of Boston’s relative struggles.
Beltre signed with the Texas Rangers and has been a fixture of their lineup ever since. He was a big part of the team that got back to the World Series in 2011, and came so close to winning it all before Tony La Russa performed some kind or blood magic (allegedly, and I’m the one doing the alleging) for the Cardinals to win Game 6 and finish the Rangers off in Game 7. That year, the Red Sox were eliminated on the last day of the season and the organizational over-correction that came from that collapse resulted in replacing Terry Francona with Bobby Valentine.
Beltre became a fan favorite and Internet sensation in Texas, between the nonsense about not liking his head touched (which only compelled teammates to touch his head more) and things like the exchange he had just last week with a humorless umpire over standing in the on deck circle that got him ejected. All the while, he was remarkably consistent in the field and in the batter’s box (probably, in part, because of his inability to pick up and drag the actual batter’s box).
Adrian Beltre was underappreciated for most of his career, playing on the Los Angeles Dodgers before they were the best team in baseball and outspending the New York Yankees, playing on the noncompetitive Seattle Mariners, and playing for the Red Sox in a rare Octoberless season in the 2000s. He was in his 30s and playing in Texas before he was on a consistently competitive team, and before he could get out of the shadow of the 48 home run 2004 season that got him a big contract with the Mariners.
I’ve been thinking about Adrian Beltre a lot this season, as third base has been a glaring area of need for my Red Sox in 2017. Although, it wasn’t exactly a stable position before this year, either. They moved Kevin Youkilis back from first base to make room for Adrian Gonzalez, then Will Middlebrooks showed some promise, until he didn’t. They moved Xander Bogaerts to third from shortstop, when they were desperately trying to make Stephen Drew happen, for reasons I never fully understood. They paid big money for Pablo Sandoval when they were better off with Brock Holt and Travis Shaw, and with Sandoval run out of town, they’re scraping by with Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. And those are just the third basemen I could name off the top of my head.
Adrian Beltre has continued to have a great career that will now certainly end with a plaque in Cooperstown, and you can’t tell me the Red Sox were better off moving on from him seven years ago. They could have used him in 2011. They could still use him today.
This Major League Baseball offseason has been terrific for trades and player movement, to the point that baseball is taking up time in the 24 hour sports news cycle during football/basketball/hockey season the way the NBA was during the middle of the summer when baseball was the only major sport playing games. The eager waiting of baseball fans everywhere for Jon Lester’s free agency decision did not have the ESPN flair of LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010, but jokes about waiting for a new Pope, and anticipating red smoke if the lefty ace chose Boston and blue smoke if he picked Chicago (or orange smoke if he decided to take his talents to San Francisco, but they were out of the running before the Red Sox and Cubs) dominated Reddit and Twitter, and did not seem that far off from the reality of the situation. Not every offseason is this exciting, but 2014 has not disappointed, unless you’re a fan of the Orioles or Athletics (but even then, A’s fans must be used to Billy Beane’s wheeling and dealing by now, and they’ll be contending again soon enough).
One team that usually flies under the radar during the winter, and rarely makes waves during the regular season has been right in the thick of it this offseason, however. The San Diego Padres might not be good this year, but there’s more to talk about with that club than there has been in a while.
The Padres are one of those teams that you might forget are in Major League Baseball if you follow an American League team, and they’re not on the inter-league schedule. In recent years, the National League West has been dominated by the San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Arizona Diamondbacks (who beat the New York Yankees in seven games in 2001) and the Colorado Rockies (who actually beat the Padres in a one game playoff before eventually getting swept by the Red Sox in 2007) have both been to the World Series since Bruce Bochy, Trevor Hoffman and the late great Tony Gwynn led them to a National League Pennant in 1998, before being swept by the juggernaut Yankees. These days, Gwynn is in Cooperstown, but gone well before his time, and Bochy and Hoffman appear to be headed there eventually, with Bochy the skipper behind three World Series winning teams in the last five years, and Hoffman getting a new award for the National League’s best closer named in his honor, but none of them are doing anything to help the Padres right now.
The plight of small market teams in baseball is reflected in San Diego’s baseball club. Adrian Gonzalez was a good player for them, but they traded him to Boston in 2011 rather than sign him to an extension or lose him via free agency. This winter, however, the Padres went on the offensive with their trades, acquiring Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays, and Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves, three outfielders with All-Star caliber bats. They also flipped veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Red Sox for third baseman Will Middlebrooks. This is a low-risk trade that could potentially work well for both teams. Middlebrooks is a young player with plenty of power who gets injured almost as much as he strikes out, but a change of scenery could be good for him, especially since the Red Sox were ready to move on from him with the signing of World Series hero Pablo Sandoval earlier in the offseason. For the Red Sox, Hanigan is a local kid (from Andover, MA) who could play the role of mentor to young catcher Christian Vazquez, and replace David Ross (who signed with the Cubs to catch for Lester) as the team’s backup catcher.
The recurring theme seems to be a change of scenery, and there isn’t much better scenery than San Diego. I was always surprised that San Diego couldn’t attract free agents on its good weather alone, but it is exactly what these players need. Matt Kemp was a fan favorite and a legitimate superstar in Los Angeles, having been a two time All-Star, two time Gold Glover, and a two time Silver Slugger, but is now 30, and has had injury issues, and has fallen out of favor with the Dodgers. It’s interesting to note, though, that both Kemp and Dodgers owner Magic Johnson were mentioned by name in the Donald Sterling tapes, for being people that V. Stiviano had taken pictures with and posted to Instagram against Sterling’s approval. At any rate, it was probably time for Kemp to head south. San Diego should be a good change of pace after playing his entire career with the Dodgers.
Wil Myers was part of a big trade two years ago that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Kansas City Royals. Myers, a top prospect in Kansas City’s farm system was believed to be a steal at the time, although Shields and Davis were a big part of the incredible, improbable, no joke, very exciting run to Game 7 of the World Series that Kansas City went on this past October. Myers was no slouch, either. He won the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Award with Tampa, and at 24, still has a promising future ahead of him in the game of baseball. It may be a very Boston-centric sports take, but it might do Myers a lot of good to spend less time at Fenway Park. Myers made a costly error at Fenway in the 2013 ALDS, which helped kick off the Red Sox postseason success that year, and in 2014, he collided in the Fenway outfield with Desmond Jennings resulting in a wrist injury that would derail his season (as well as the Rays’ season, which resulted in Tampa trading David Price to the Detroit Tigers, general manager Andrew Friedman leaving to become President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers, and field manager Joe Maddon leaving to become manager of the Cubs). With the Padres, Myers won’t even have to go to Fenway every season.
Justin Upton is another player who could use a change of scenery because things just weren’t working in Atlanta. The Braves had plenty of bats, but had poor plate approach as a team. Upton and his brother B.J. did not live up to the hype that came with them arriving in Atlanta the same year. After the Braves dealt Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals, it seemed as if they were ready to blow it up and start rebuilding.
It’s unclear at this time if the Padres will be good, but it’s the first time I can remember that there is buzz around the Padres in the offseason, and it just might lead to regular season buzz. At the very least, the Giants and Dodgers are looking over their shoulders because the division has a chance to be more than just a two team race in 2015.
The title says it all. That’s all I can say at this point. Everything that went right for the Red Sox last year is what’s going wrong for the Red Sox this year, as they have currently lost nine straight games and sit in the cellar of the American League East. What the baseball gods giveth, the baseball gods can taketh away in an offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury is in pinstripes, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia has taken his talents to South Beach, but that’s not the only problem with the 2014 Red Sox. This could be a long season, but I don’t expect it to be the long term trend.
Right now the Sox’ lineup lacks the thunder it had last year, but that was to be expected. Jacoby Ellsbury is one of, if not the best lead-off hitters in the Majors, and Salty provides above average production at the plate for a catcher, but they were not worth getting overpaid by the Yankees and Marlins the way they were. Every Red Sox fan knew that, and nothing has changed, but in the meantime, their production is missed. The hope is that Jackie Bradley Jr. can eventually replace Ellsbury’s production (and Bradley is already a better defensive center fielder than Ells) and that Xander Bogaerts becomes the hitter people think he will be, but right now it’s a team that struggles to drive in runs. The Red Sox are showing us this year why batting average and RBIs still have value as statistics in an age where on base percentage, OPS, WAR, and VORP are replacing the traditional columns on the backs of baseball cards. Sure a walk is as good as a hit, but sometimes you really need to hit.
The new arrivals in Boston have not stepped up enough. I expected growing pains with Bradley, Bogaerts, and Will Middlebrooks (who is on the disabled list once again), and I am okay with that. Bogaerts has incredible plate discipline, and I’m not losing too much sleep over his struggles in the field at shortstop because I don’t think he’s going to be there forever. Go back and Google Image search the pictures of a young skinny Miguel Cabrera. That kid was originally projected to be a shortstop, too, but he’s since bulked up and become the best hitter in baseball, and this season has moved from third base over to first. Bogaerts is going to be such a good hitter that he’ll be worthwhile no matter where you put him on the field. Middlebrooks is the guy to be worried about, as he’s spent more time at the Major League level than Bradley or Bogaerts, and he has a deep pipeline of third base prospects waiting in line behind him. If he can’t stay healthy, this might be his last year in Boston.
What’s really killing the Red Sox is their starting pitching, and the biggest offender is Clay Buchholz. I was done with Buchholz last year, but he got bailed out by the fact that the Red Sox won the World Series. If the Red Sox had fallen short (knowing full well that they would be taking a step backward this year no matter what with the loss of Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia), then Buccholz would be the #1 scapegoat in Boston all last winter. Buchholz basically took a summer vacation in the middle of last season for an injury where there was no structural damage to his throwing arm, pitched like he didn’t want to be there in the World Series, got the team to baby him through spring training, claims to have no physical problems, and now is just pitching like crap. No player in Red Sox history has ever done less to earn two World Series rings. What’s the point! I’d say trade him, except I can’t imagine teams would want to give up much of anything for him.
If Red Sox fans want something to be hopeful about, they should look to the National League and the west coast. The San Francisco Giants are a couple years ahead of the Red Sox in their franchise’ developmental arc, and have had a similar on-and-off success pattern. The Giants won the World Series in 2010, missed the playoffs after being eliminated in the last week of the regular season in 2011, won the World Series in 2012, and finished in last place in the National League West in 2013. Nearly two months into the 2014 regular season, San Francisco currently has the best record in Major League Baseball (31-18) and appear poised for another playoff run. It’s very early for this kind of thing, but we could be looking at a rematch of the 2012 World Series between the Giants and Detroit Tigers of a rematch of the 1989 Earthquake World Series between the Giants and their Bay Area rivals, the Oakland Athletics. A year ago, the Giants couldn’t get out of their own way on the field, but they stayed the course as an organization and are right where they want to be in 2014. San Francisco GM Brian Sabean is one of the best, as is field manager Bruce Bochy, and they have been smart enough not to overreact to one season. In Boston, Ben Cherington and John Farrell are the same way, it seems.
Who knows? Maybe we’re in for a run where the Giants always win in even numbered years, and the Red Sox take the odds. Of the last four World Series champions, the only team that has consistently competed has been the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost in the NLCS to the Giants in 2012, and who lost in the World Series to the Red Sox in 2013, and are currently gaining ground on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. Baseball isn’t easy, and just because you win it all one year, doesn’t mean you’ll even be in the discussion the next, as the Red Sox and Giants know all too well.