While most fantasy baseball owners probably give little thought to real-life defense, if they even consider it an important part of the game at all, good for the Texas Rangers. Defense indeed matters quite a bit, and Adrian Beltre is surely one of the best in baseball at manning the third base spot. For this reason, as well as Beltre's offensive numbers from 2010, the Rangers have signed him to a six-year contract worth nearly $100 million, even though Michael Young has been their third baseman for years and remains productive.
Beltre is one of the preeminent fielders in baseball, and is also coming off arguably the second-best season of his career. His addition -- and Young's subtraction as a below-average third baseman -- makes the Rangers a better team and helps the pitchers (notably ground-ballers Tommy Hunter and Brandon Webb), even if everyone tries to figure out how this affects Young. Hey, don't cry for him. Young has changed positions twice prior and his offensive numbers remained excellent. He'll likely remain a Texas Ranger and entrenched in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, where he can help fantasy owners in batting average, power and score plenty of runs ahead of Josh Hamilton and now, Beltre. Young might be solely a designated hitter for 2012 fantasy leagues, but we've got awhile to worry about that. He also has experience at three infield positions, could probably easily learn the fourth (first base), so don't dismiss him in keeper leagues yet. Couldn't you just see him getting in 20 games at second base?
As for Beltre, he was fantasy's No. 3 third baseman in 2010, a statistical monster despite being a somewhat forgotten on draft day, ending up just behind Jose Bautista (more power) and David Wright (stolen bases), and 21st overall. That's an awesome season, the second-best of Beltre's longer-than-you-think career. He's only 31, despite playing 13 seasons. In 2004 Beltre smacked 48 home runs, batted in 121 runs and hit .334 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, then cashed in on a monstrous contract with the Seattle Mariners. While Beltre never duplicated that season in Seattle, it's a mistake to say he didn't matter for fantasy owners. He did hit 25 home runs three times for the Mariners before moving on to the Red Sox. Perhaps expectations were too high.
I think fantasy expectations might be somewhat muted in comparison to his last monster season. However, I don't buy into the theory that the last time Beltre went nuts in a free agent season and turned his timing into much financial success his effort or motivation dropped off as a Mariner. If anything, he enters a situation he should thrive in, playing half his games in a terrific home ballpark for hitters, probably inheriting the Vladimir Guerrero clean-up spot in the lineup protecting MVP Hamilton. (Remember, Young will likely be the primary DH now, so goodbye to Guerrero, officially). Beltre is a career .306 hitter with power at the Ballpark in Arlington, but he would have hit for the Angels or any other team that signed him. Frankly, I see him actually raising his power production in 2011, not to 2004 levels, but a bit better than 2010. This remains someone to invest in.
Beltre was the No. 13 third baseman off the board in 2010 ESPN average live drafts, a few spots after his new teammate Young, but Beltre's 2011 performance will move him way up. Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft ranked Beltre No. 63 overall and sixth at third base in his latest top 250. I was pretty much on par with that before the signing, but feel like this news moves Beltre well into the top 50 overall, and should vault him over, or at least on par with, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Zimmerman. Yes, surely I recall the disappointing Beltre seasons, and not everyone simply crushes the ball with the Rangers, but this seems like a can't-miss to me.
In fact, the only third basemen I would clearly draft over Beltre now are Evan Longoria and the Mets' Wright. Consider Rodriguez hit .270 with 30 home runs and 125 RBIs, and he's older and I don't believe as durable as Beltre. He's also not likely to steal enough bases to matter in future seasons, removing a key cog in his fantasy value. In 2008 A-Rod hit 30 home runs with 100 RBIs in 124 games, while batting .286. Do we expect 40 home runs? A .300 batting average? Why can't Beltre hit .300 with close to 35 home runs and 110 RBIs? Well, he can in this new situation. And the best Zimmerman has done in five seasons is .292-33-106. Rodriguez, based on the past, is likely to come overrated, as well as Zimmerman based on potential upside we still have yet to fully see, but Beltre seems to be in his prime and a far better value to me. I'd take him in the fourth round, perhaps even better than that.