Standing at a $165 million payroll, $5 million below the luxury tax cap, there have been questions abound about whether the Red Sox will continue their hunt for players like Adrian Beltre and Adrian Gonzalez. Theo Epstein and Co. answered those questions in a big way today by coming to terms with Beltre in a 1-year, $9 million contract with a second year option.
The Red Sox had a mediocre lineup last season. Losing Manny Ramirez meant losing an explosive bat in the lineup that Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia could not recreate. While Beltre has not come close to replicating his 48 home run season in 2004, he does have the potential for a 20 home run season or more every year. His 8 home runs last season were a bit of an aberration, especially considering he was playing with injured shoulders and a torn ligament in his thumb. Beltre also hits home runs heavily towards left field, so he is sure to make friends with the monster.
Beltre brings quality defense to an already defensively strong team. If the starting infield consists of Youkilis, Pedroia, Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox will have four golden glove caliber players right behind the pitcher. Beltre’s most glaring weakness on defense is his tendency to not wear a cup.
The years and money could not be better for the Red Sox. $9 million is a decent price for a statistically declining Beltre, who earned $13 million from the Mariners last year. A second year for Beltre is worth even less, which works well for both parties. If Beltre does not improve this season, the Red Sox will only owe him $5 million should he choose to stay next season. If Beltre does improve, he can earn more money either here or elsewhere, giving him the incentive throughout the season to perform at his very best.
The Red Sox also escape an awkward situation with Mike Lowell. Casey Kotchman has not yet proven himself as an improvement over Lowell and Youkilis at the corners, but with the Red Sox foiled attempts to trade Lowell, it’s clear that Lowell does not figure heavily into their plans for 2010. Yet starting Kotchman over Lowell would be unwarranted, as Lowell did prove himself as a solid player when healthy with the Red Sox, even earning the 2007 World Series MVP honors. With Beltre, however, the Red Sox have a more defensively sound, younger, and somewhat healthier starter who is statistically comparable to Lowell over an extended period of time. While the Sox could try to trade Lowell again, not too many teams will jump at the chance to sign a player who has already failed one physical and has had an increasing history of injury. Now, the Sox can use Lowell off the bench more legitimately.
Overall, the Beltre signing, if he passes his physical, can only mean good things for the Red Sox. Sure, they will exceed the luxury tax threshold, but based on comments from Epstein, Henry and Warner throughout the off season, that seemed to be the plan all along. Beltre may just be the final check on the check list for the Red Sox’s winter shopping.