Monday, January 4, 2010

Beltre completes Red Sox bridge

Oh, and you thought a "bridge" meant a third-place season?

Reports indicate that the Red Sox have signed third baseman Adrian Beltre to a one-year deal worth $9 million with a player option for 2011 worth $5 million.

It's a perfect fit for the bridge Theo Epstein is trying to build to the prospects in the lower levels of his minor-league system.

Wait a second, MacPherson, you're already saying. Didn't you just write, a couple of days ago, that Beltre was, in fact, not a fit for the Red Sox bridge?

That's true.

Here's the difference: A one-year deal for Beltre, even with a player option, gives the Red Sox exactly the type of flexibility they crave. Consider this excerpt from the above blog post:

What happens if cancer survivor Anthony Rizzo tears apart Double-A this year and is beating down the door to the major leagues midway through the 2011 season? What happens if Lars Anderson rediscovers the power stroke that generated so much hype last season? Even more likely: What happens if Adrian Gonzalez becomes available in July the way many expect him to be?

The Red Sox can't count on Anderson. The Red Sox can't count on Rizzo. The Red Sox certainly can't count on Gonzalez landing in their laps sometime in July.

What they can count on, though, is tremendous flexibility going forward both with their finances and with their roster. Consider the money coming off the books in the next two seasons:

After 2010
Josh Beckett ($12.1 million)
Adrian Beltre ($9 million, if option is not picked up)
Mike Lowell ($12.5 million)
Julio Lugo ($9 million)
Victor Martinez ($7.7 million)
David Ortiz ($13 million)

After 2011
Beltre ($5 million, if option is picked up)
Mike Cameron ($7.75 million)
J.D. Drew ($14 million)
Jonathan Papelbon ($10 million, maybe)
Marco Scutaro ($5 million, if option not picked up)

The Red Sox have prospects on the way like Anderson, Rizzo, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick and Ryan Westmoreland -- and those are just the position players.

When Theo Epstein talked about a bridge year, he was talking about restocking his roster without blocking the talent in his minor-league system and without eliminating the possibility of a trade for Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder.

A one-year deal for Beltre -- a steal, really, considering the numbers Scott Boras was throwing around way back when -- fits that philosophy precisely.

Two things could happen this season with Beltre:
1. Beltre could play terrific baseball;
2. Beltre could play terrible baseball.

Two things could happen this season with the Red Sox:
4. Beltre could become expendable -- be it via a trade for Gonzalez or via a tremendous year out of Anderson or Rizzo, players who conceivably could be ready to play first base in the major leagues in 2011;
2. Beltre could become indispensable when none of the above scenarios play out.

If both No. 1s play out, the Red Sox would find themselves in a great situation. Not only would they be getting a third baseman playing terrific baseball, but they'd have either be bringing him back for a second year at a bargain-basement price or be replacing him with someone even more valuable.

If the Red Sox trade for Gonzalez or make clear their intention to promote Anderson or Rizzo, after all, he'd face the same situation as Jason Varitek did this winter: He'd have to exercise a player option knowing no starting job awaited him.

(Then again, if Ortiz is allowed to walk away, Anderson or Gonzalez or Rizzo could be a designated hitter for a year until Beltre's contract expires.)

If both No. 2s play out, a worst-case scenario, the Red Sox wouldn't have done anything to cripple themselves going forward. Beltre would likely pick up his $5 million player option to rebuild his value, but that's far from a crippling contract. The Red Sox still would have plenty of money -- thanks to the expiring contracts of Lowell, Lugo and Ortiz -- to go out and find a corner infielder either on a short-term deal or a long-term deal.

Epstein has always talked about running his big-market Red Sox like a small-market team.

Small-market teams don't cripple themselves with long-term contracts, instead going short-term with veteran players to allow themselves to infuse young talent whenever possible.

In that way, the one-year deal to which Beltre agreed on Monday is just the type of small-market deal that perfectly fits the Epstein philosophy.

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