Adrian Beltre, who turns 37 next month, wants a new contract.
Whether it was in good faith or obvious obviousness, the Texas Rangers picked up his $16 million vesting option on February 25th, 2015, a month and change before the start of last season and a few months before Beltre tore a ligament in his thumb. Even then, the future Hall-of-Fame 3rd baseman squeezed out another 5-Win season, helping the Rangers capture their 3rd AL West crown in 6 years.
That's why picking up Adrian's 2016 option before it was necessary was such a no brainer in the first place. Between 2011-2015 -- Adrian Beltre's first five years in Texas -- he generated +27.3 fWAR, which trails only Mike Trout (+38.5), Andrew McCutchen (+33.4) and Miguel Cabrera (+29.9) in FanGraphs WAR over that span. If we price each Win, conservatively, as being worth $5.5 million, then Beltre produced a whopping $150 million worth of value ($30 million/year) while being paid an average of $16 million annually. Already the Rangers have made an insane amount of surplus value on Beltre's 6-year, $90 million contract.
Yet, he is now reportedly seeking a 3-year, $60 million extension, which would cover his age 38-40 seasons -- where even baseball's greats succumb to gravity, and natural decline.
So this brings us to the great question: Knowing Texas did so well on his original contract, getting roughly double the production it paid for, is that justification enough to bite the bullet and pay for his decline years?
My immediate inclination is no, it isn't worth it. But it's also true that my immediate inclinations are based almost exclusively on the exact opposite of how I feel emotionally. Because if I'm being honest, I love watching Adrian Beltre play baseball for the Rangers. I, as I can only assume most of you as well, want him to retire as a Ranger.
However, emotional responses don't generally make for the best business decisions. And baseball is big business.
Beltre is lauded by his manager and teammates and the media at large as being a great leader. While I rarely prescribe to the idea that leadership has any inherent value whatsoever -- because it's intangible and unquantifiable -- for the Rangers, and Adrian Beltre specifically, I do think it holds some value.
This is rich coming from a Texas Rangers blogger, that leadership means nothing unless it's one of my guys. Which is fair. But I was also, perhaps unjustly, part of a population of Rangers fans that thought Michael Young was the most overrated player in franchise history. His brand of "leadership" was part of a media narrative, as his skills eroded so much over the last few years of his career that without leadership, there were a precious few things that Young could actually be described as doing well on a baseball field.
Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre is old, but he can still rely on performance to set the standard. He's especially important to the Rangers, who've invested heavily in Latin America over the last decade. There are a disproportionately large number of Spanish-first players suiting up for Texas, and it's meaningful for the Rangers to have a been there, done that, veteran teammate to help all the young talent with the transition into MLB.
There's also the issue of the Rangers depth moving forward. Elvis Andrus and Prince Fielder are signed longterm, Rougned Odor won't be a free agent until after the 2020 season, and given a little fortune with health, Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo could be ready for regular service as early as this summer.
Tentatively, it's reasonable to assume that Beltre, Andrus, Odor and Moreland will cover the infield assignments to start 2016, with Fielder as the DH and Profar and Gallo at Triple-A. What Texas plans on doing with Profar, Gallo and Beltre will be fascinating to watch over the next 12 months.
Still, I can't shake the feeling that Adrian Beltre is looked at as a constant, almost indispensable piece of the Rangers puzzle. In spite of the fact that the better business model consists of paying Gallo the league minimum to play 3B in 2017, internally I'm guessing the Rangers don't want to revisit the mistake it made with Michael Young in 2013. Even with all the amazing advances baseball has made with Sabermetrics, exposing market inefficiencies, there are still pockets of hidden value out there. And it won't terribly surprise me if the Rangers travel the path of least resistance for the greater good of the clubhouse.
Which is something I never thought I would be OK with advocating.
With nearly everything I've written over the last half-decade, I have attempted to justify my points using basic math in the WAR/$ paradigm. And to a large degree it's been a worthwhile undertaking given the numbers-friendly sensibilities of the Rangers front office.
Here, however, I find myself devolving back into the stone age. The words to describe Adrian Beltre as a smart business decision moving forward are outweighed almost in totality by the inescapable forces of age and decline, and is he really going to be worth $20 million a year?
I'm not convinced, which isn't the same as saying I wouldn't do the damn thing, anyway. Beltre has been one of the best players in MLB over his last five years in Texas. And although you will rarely see me standing on that as reasoning for paying a player beyond, I do believe some nuance is required in this specific case.