Should the Orioles Pursue Beltre?
Yes the Baltimore Orioles missed out on their top free agent targets, and instead traded for 3B Mark Reynolds (as well as SS J.J. Hardy), but that doesn’t mean they can’t swoop in and grab one of the best free agents. The Adrian Beltre market has dried up this offseason due to a combination of factors. Now Beltre comes with some risk, as his last major foray into free agency didn’t go so well for the Seattle Mariners, but he is a risk worth taking for the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite the perception that he was a major bust in his time in Seattle, Beltre more or less lived up to the value of his contract. Unfortunately most of his value came from his glove, which isn’t nearly as sexy as a .900+ OPS hitter. Part of the issue in Seattle was their field, which does no favors for RH power hitters. Beltre always hit better on the road during his time with the Mariners, and had years where his OPS was 100 points higher away from home. Last year moving to Boston Beltre saw his numbers rise, though he still had a strong road number despite the smaller Fenway Park. For a team like the Orioles with a hitter friendly home field, Beltre should be able to maintain his numbers from last season.
Beltre should appeal to the Orioles for another bigger reason though and that is his defense. Beltre is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game and has been consistently for the last 10 years (one or two down years, but overall exceptional). The Orioles defense last year was a major issue, and third base was a trouble spot with Miguel Tejada. While Mark Reynolds offers a slight upgrade and should provide average to slightly above average defense, Beltre can make it a strength of Baltimore.
Now I understand there is a concern about moving Mark Reynolds and I understand that, since I like him as a ball player and the last thing you want is to upset the clubhouse. But if Reynolds were to be okay with a move it should strengthen two defensive positions. The Orioles had one of the worst defensive first basemen units last season, so anything is an upgrade, but a player like Reynolds should be above average to even well above average there. He came up as a 2B/3B so he has some limited agility, meaning he should have pretty good range for a first baseman. He has limited time there and the results haven’t been pretty, but given an entire offseason and Spring Training to work at it, I think he could be a good option for the Orioles.
Yes the Orioles could pursue a more traditional first baseman like Adam LaRoche or Derek Lee, but neither will ever be the impact bat Baltimore needs. They could pursue a trade for a Billy Butler or a young prospect like Yonder Alonso, but those options come with risks as well (not to mention teams that might be looking for something the Orioles aren’t offering). Despite his inconsistencies Beltre is a very good player, and if his bat is at its peak he is a superstar. He will be 32 as the season rolls around so he figures to be able to play out a 5 year deal at a high level.
There is a significant risk involved with investing $14-16 million a year into a player, but you have to take some chances sometimes. And given how well rounded Beltre is it should be worth it. The Orioles might seem like they have an uphill climb, but if their young pitching staff comes together and some of their 2nd and 3rd year players begin to play up to their potential they really could be competitive in the A.L. East. So a player like Beltre really could put them over the top. I believe this is a case where the benefit outweighs the risks. Even if they aren’t competitive right off the bat, it proves to players, agents and fans that the Orioles are serious about winning and that is the best thing for this franchise.