Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz

Red Sox Revisionism: What If the Sox Had Signed Adrian Beltre?

Adrian Beltre played just one season with the Red Sox, but it was a good one. He was among the top third basemen in baseball in 2010. He sported a .298 true average, made the American League All-Star team and won a Silver Slugger. He was also a Gold Glove candidate.

Beltre’s 2010 was a breakthrough after five middling seasons in Seattle. He emerged as a top-tier player who was a strong fielder and could hit for power. He was a legitimate star on a mediocre team lacking in star power (or, according to Tom Werner, sexiness). An impending free agent, Beltre positioned himself for a nice payday in the offseason.

It seemed clear the Sox wouldn’t be the ones to pay him. Beltre was 31 years old and, like many players before him, excelled in a contract year. The Red Sox would receive two compensation picks if he signed elsewhere. Letting Beltre, who was not a lock to match his 2010 numbers again, walk in exchange for a pair of picks in what was expected to be a deep draft looked like the obvious choice.

So that’s what the Sox did. Beltre signed a five-year, $96 million deal with the Rangers. The Red Sox moved Kevin Youkilis to third and traded for All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Boston later used its compensation picks to draft outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and catcher Blake Swihart, both of whom had the makings of top prospects. The Red Sox were World Series favorites and their future was solidified.

The Red Sox lost a player whose production hardly wavered over the duration of his next contract — in fact, Beltre has been one of the best third basemen in baseball over that span — and the Sox in return were one of the worst teams at third base.

But did they make the right decision?

Hindsight is a funny thing. We as writers and fans use it as a tool to reflect on a team’s past decisions. In most cases the answer is pretty explicit. However, in this situation hindsight paints a fuzzy picture even five years later. On one end, the Sox lost a player whose production hardly wavered over the duration of his next contract — in fact, Beltre has been one of the best third basemen in baseball over that span — and the Sox in return were one of the worst teams at third base.

But by moving on Boston has acquired a pair of young players with the potential to be mainstays for the coming years. Bradley is one of the most exciting outfielders the team has produced in recent memory, and despite inconsistencies has shown he can be a dangerous hitter when hot. Swihart came into 2015 as the team’s top prospect and made the most of his opportunity in the majors this season. Their development is crucial given their role in the Beltre decision.

Texas is out of the postseason and Beltre’s contract is up, which makes it an appropriate time to reflect on how this move worked out for the Red Sox. There’s plenty still to be determined, but also enough evidence available to make the picture a little clearer.

Let’s start with Beltre. He slashed .309/.358/.514 from 2011-15 and with a solid 24.2 WARP in that time. He was a three-time All-Star, won a pair of Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and in 2012 was third in the AL MVP voting. Simply put, the Rangers, who made the postseason three of those five years, got more than their money’s worth out of Beltre.

As for the Red Sox? They’ve gone through three starting third basemen — Youkilis, Will Middlebrooks and Pablo Sandoval — in the past five years, with a few part-timers sprinkled in, and none of their numbers comes close to what Beltre has accomplished. Boston was 21st in wOBA over that time and is now locked in a regrettable contract at the position thanks to Sandoval. The Sox seemingly have no better answers.

Don’t believe it’s been that bad? Here’s how it’s looked year by year.


Adrian Beltre: 124 games; .304 TAv; .381 wOBA; 4.6 WARP

Kevin Youkilis: 120 games; .287 TAv; .366 wOBA; 2.6 WARP

This one is actually pretty close. Both players had All-Star-caliber seasons with the offensive numbers ending up nearly identical. At this point it looks like not re-signing Beltre was the right decision. The Red Sox made big acquisitions at other spots, got their two picks and hardly had a drop-off at third in Beltre’s absence. So far, so good.


Adrian Beltre: 156 games; .322 TAv; .388 wOBA; 5.7 WARP

Kevin Youkilis: 42 games; .247 TAv; .328 wOBA (2012 total); -0.1 WARP

Will Middlebrooks: 75 games; .279 TAv; .357 wOBA; 1.8 WARP

Youkilis had a brief and forgettable stint with the Bobby Valentine-led Sox before being traded to the White Sox in June. But no need to worry. Boston called up Will Middlebrooks and the rookie had a promising campaign before a wrist injury cut it short. Meanwhile, Beltre was having what would be his best season over the course of the deal. Still, Middlebrooks’ emergence continued to make the Red Sox look smart.


Adrian Beltre: 161 games; .312 TAv; .379 wOBA; 5.7 WARP

Will Middlebrooks: 94 games; .240 TAv; .300 wOBA; 0.8 WARP

This is where the discrepancy starts to show. Beltre continued to produce at an elite level, while Middlebrooks struggled in his second season, battling both injury and poor play. The Sox got a bulk of the season out of Middlebrooks, while Jose Iglesias, Xander Bogaerts, Pedro Ciriaco and Brandon Snyder all saw time at third as well. It was too early to say Middlebrooks wasn’t the long-term solution at third by this point, but it certainly wasn’t looking good.


Adrian Beltre: 148 games; .320 TAv; .380 wOBA; 4.9 WARP

Will Middlebrooks: 63 games; .188 TAv; .238 wOBA; -1.2 WARP

Xander Bogaerts: 44 games at third; .247 TAv; .294 wOBA; 0.7 WARP

Brock Holt: 39 games at third; .261 TAv; .317 wOBA; 1.6 WARP

This one is complicated from a Red Sox perspective, but nothing short of disastrous. Middlebrooks spent more of the season on the disabled list than actually playing. That opened up third base for Xander Bogaerts, who had an ugly 44-game stint at third before going back to shortstop, and Brock Holt. Needless to say no one in Boston could come close to Beltre’s 2014 production, which resulted in another All-Star selection.


Adrian Beltre: 143 games; .278 TAv; .337 wOBA; 3.3 WARP

Pablo Sandoval: 126 games; .229 TAv; .288 wOBA; -1.4 WARP

This was arguably the worst result of letting Beltre walk. In need of a viable third baseman, the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million contract, a deal nearly identical to Beltre’s after 2010. The result has been far, far worse. Sandoval had the worst season of any qualified third baseman in baseball, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint. Beltre’s 2015 was a drop-off from the previous four seasons, but far from a disappointment as he was still one of the most valuable third basemen in the game. Oh yeah, and, barring a miracle, Boston still has four more years of Sandoval.

The Red Sox would’ve been better off with Beltre over any other third baseman they’ve used over the last five years, and it would’ve come at a fair price. That’s evident, but the value of the return is still to be determined.

Boston got two prospects out of Beltre, and both have developed into major leaguers. Bradley is a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder who can’t consistently hit big league pitching. He had a nightmare rookie season at the plate in 2014, and spent most of last season in Triple-A Pawtucket before getting called up permanently in August. He finished 2015 with a .280 TAv in 255 plate appearances and was one of the team’s best hitters over the last six weeks of the season, a sizeable improvement from the year before that gives him a legitimate shot at a starting job next season.

Swihart has the potential to be a star. Injuries to Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan forced the Sox to call him up earlier than expected this season, but he improved steadily as the year went on, establishing himself as a serviceable catcher with a solid bat. (He finished 12th among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances with a .312 wOBA.) His development more than anything else could be the difference between whether or not losing Beltre was worth it.

Swihart’s future with the Red Sox, however, is uncertain with Vazquez expected to be ready for next season. Swihart could be a trade chip, or he could be forced to earn the spot over Vazquez, who was the odds-on favorite to be the team’s starting catcher this year before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery in the spring.

In a world where prospects are overrated and each year is unpredictable, it’s often better to go with the safe bet. In hindsight, that’s exactly what Beltre would’ve been. The Red Sox have received little production at third over the last five years, all while Beltre has consistently been one of the game’s best. His presence would’ve made a difference as Boston stumbled to three last-place finishes.

The potential of both Swihart and Bradley is exciting, and they may be around far longer than Beltre would have. But Bradley, at best, is a bottom-of-the-order hitter with a spectacular glove. Swihart may become a star, or he may not. Worst of all, there may still be four more years of Sandoval.

Perhaps the future will swing the decision more in the Red Sox’s favor, but unless both Swihart and Bradley blossom, they would’ve been much better off with Beltre.

Photo by Carey Edmondson/USA Today Sports Images

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8 comments on “Red Sox Revisionism: What If the Sox Had Signed Adrian Beltre?”

Walt in Maryland

Your article presumes the Red Sox could have kept Beltre if they were willing to pay. Not the way I remember it. Beltre’s “middling statistics” in Seattle were better than you represent. It was a terrible hitting environment for RH power hitters, he had some injuries, and his numbers away from Safeco were actually quite good.

But those numbers depressed his free agent value, so he agreed to sign a “pillow” contract with Boston. A very smart move, as Beltre got to spend one year in a great hitting environment, put up big numbers, and go back on the market.

There was much written at the time about Beltre wanting to play on the West Coast. His family lives there, and the Angels were seen as the favorite to sign him. He went to the Rangers instead.

Boston would have had to pay significantly more than Texas gave Beltre to have a shot at signing him. It was never likely to happen, and it became impossible after his big year at Fenway.

Ben Carsley

I think it’s worth bringing up that Beltre prefers the West Coast, sure, but there’s absolutely no way to know if more money from the Sox would’ve or wouldn’t have swayed him; it’s not like Texas is *that* close to LA/Seattle.

The premise of the article stands — the Red Sox at least had a chance to sign Beltre, and they clearly didn’t try.


I agree that letting Beltre walk was the wrong call, but can we avoid sensationalism like “Bradley is one of the most exciting outfielders the team has produced in recent memory” and Oh yeah, and, barring a miracle, Boston still has four more years of Sandoval.”? Bradley’s age at level dampen his ceiling probability (see WMB), year to year variance suggests Panda should rebound, and Swihart was only behind Vazquez because of development path. Swihart is likely the much better player long term.

Ben Carsley

I guess we’re getting a little pedantic here, but other than Ellsbury, Betts and *maybe* Josh Reddick who’s an OF the Sox have produced in the last decade who’s as exciting as JBJ?


Interesting discussion, but I think Walt hits the nail on the head regarding Beltre’s desire and/or Boston’s desire to pay him to stay. the one year deal was a great “prove yourself” deal and he did.

Unfortuantely I also think you exagerate Bradley’s hitting ability. He has NOT been inconsistant at all, he has been very consistantly a poor hitter at the ML level. The slight abberation came during the month of August/first week of Sept this year, more specifically durng two small stretches, one from 8/9-8/15 where he went 13 for 22, and from 8/28-9/7 where he went 17-35. Other than those two stretches he was his usual wet-salami batting self. Even with that hot stretch in early September his numbers for the full month were his normal .222/.311/.456, much closer to his career .213/.290/.638.. He simply had a hot August, no more, no less.

The one thing he DID show throughout his late season call up however was surprising (read as suspicious) power numbers. The all-of-a-sudden opposite field power had never been scene before and stinks to high heaven. If he fails a drug test who here would be shocked, raise your hand? The late season reversion to the mean had to have Dombrowski pulling his hair out. He could have sold Bradley at a nice price on his August numbers, but after September, not so much. Too bad a slight hamstring pull couldn’t have occurred on say, Sept 9th. Hey, maybe I’m being too tough on the kid, maybe he just got tired. Or maybe he needed another cycle.


Good piece, I like these kinds of articles.
I know this wasn’t the exactly the focus, but the other side of the coin to keeping Beltre is no Gonzalez. This has its own good and bad implications- no dumping Crawford and Beckett on LA, but maybe Anthony Rizzo emerges for us, etc.

Sam Johnson

Who knows? I am certain that the team would be very different, though. If they’d kept Beltre, there’s probably no A-Gon trade, and Youk stays at first base. We’re not as quite as good in 2011, so we don’t blow as big of a lead down the stretch, and Tito probably keeps his job, sparing us from Bobby V. On the other hand, we’re still stuck with Carl Crawford, since there’s no incentive for the Dodgers to take him with no A-Gon on the team.

WMB probably gets used as a trading chip before he makes it to Boston (maybe even along with Casey Kelly in a deal for some other star), with Rizzo arriving in Boston sometime in ’12 when Youk starts breaking down.

Yes I feel we should have signed BelTre===and skipped Crawford. We should have stayed with RIZZO, Traded Middlebrooks while he was a hot prospect. With A Gon $$ went for a good SP. Good Luk Dave !

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