Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is looking for a three-year deal in extension talks with the club, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports (Twitter links). He’s also hoping to out-earn Pablo Sandoval on an annual basis, per the report, which would suggest a deal with an average annual value in excess of $19MM. Presumably, that contract would kick in following the 2016 campaign, as Beltre is already guaranteed $18MM for the upcoming season.
As things stand, unsurprisingly, there’s said to be a “significant gap” between the sides. If nothing else, it seems that there’s quite a bit of negotiating left to do to find agreement. We have heard recently about mutual interest in a deal, however, as Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reported.
Beltre will soon turn 37 and dealt with a significant injury to his thumb last year. But he was still a productive hitter in 2015, with a .287/.334/.453 slash, and was arguably the game’s very best defensive third baseman. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that he was coming off of a five-year run in which he averaged a remarkable .316/.364/.535 batting line and 6.7 rWAR annually.
It’s obvious to see why Texas would have interest in keeping the veteran around, but there’s also good reason to think the organization will be cautious about promising him that kind of money through his age-40 season. In addition to age and injury risks, the Rangers have some promising options in their system, including former top prospect Jurickson Profar and power hitting youngster Joey Gallo.
Finding a middle ground could be a challenge, but still seems a plausible result. In his recent appearance on the MLBTR Podcast, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News opined that it could make sense to see a two-year contract in the range of Beltre’s current earnings — i.e., somewhere in the range of $16MM per year. However, Heyman hints that there’s a sense in Beltre’s camp that he outperformed his prior deal (which is undeniably true), and that could have an effect on his stance in future talks.
As Steve Adams of MLBTR posited in a recent MLBTR chat, it’s not surprising to see a three-year request out of the gates from Beltre. For one thing, Beltre’s reported position is only a starting point: it’s worth noting that, as Grant stated on the podcast, talks haven’t yet progressed much given the team’s other prerogatives. And advanced age doesn’t always preclude that length of contract in free agency. Carlos Beltran landed three years and $45MM from the Yankees for his age-37 through age-39 campaigns, and he wasn’t really even close to Beltre in terms of overall on-field value given his increasingly apparent defensive limitations in the corner outfield.
As things stand, Beltre is set to be one of the few premium players set to hit the open market next winter. He profiles as a future Hall-of-Famer and ranks fourth in total fWAR dating back to 2011, so he presents something of a unique player. Jose Bautista, who is about two years younger, is said to be seeking a $30MM (or greater) AAV over a five- or six-year term, and there’s certainly an argument to be made that Beltre represents a more appealing investment at his reported asking price.
Truth be told, there aren’t many straightforward comparables for a Beltre extension, in large part because it’s unusual to find players who have performed at such a high level — at a difficult defensive position, no less — at this stage of their careers. Entering his age-38 season with free agency beckoning, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz got another season and $16MM guaranteed from the Red Sox, with a vesting option and second option year at floating prices depending on the prior years’ plate appearances. At the end of a productive 2013 season, the slightly younger Chase Utley signed on for two more guaranteed years at $27MM with a series of vesting options (in an even more complicated deal with the Phillies). Utley, however, had a spottier recent track record due to a series of knee injuries that understandably gave the Phillies pause.
While those agreements fall shy of what Beltre is seeking, it’s fair to note that some huge extensions have promised premium salaries up to or through players’ age-40 campaigns. That was the case for players like Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez, though of course all of those deals also covered more youthful campaigns. But, in some sense, every time a monster contract pushes control towards or past a player’s 40th birthday, the hope is that the player profiles as well as Beltre does now when the end of the deal approaches.
In the end, those contracts don’t really tell us much about Beltre’s own late-career earning power, as the late-30s years that were guaranteed in each of those deals was the cost of locking up the remaining prime seasons of each of those stars. Few players have maintained this level of productivity into the late stages of their career with the prospect of another bite at free agency looming, so any contract he signs will ultimately be deemed as something of a precedent-setter for aging-but-elite players that still hold open-market aspirations.