PEORIA, Ariz. - Adrian Beltre took his position on the infield grass of Peoria Stadium, crouched low and ready for anything.
Moments later, “anything” was rocketing to Beltre’s left. The hitter had ripped a hard shot that appeared to be a sure hit between third base and shortstop, especially with the infield drawn in because of a runner at third.
But the Gold Glove third baseman dived to his left, arms extended and somehow came up with the ball. In an instant, he was on his feet, looking the runner back to third before firing a laser to first to get the out.
It was an All-Star play in a meaningless spring training game. And it’s why the Texas Rangers acquired Beltre in the offseason, signing him to a five-year, $80 million contract and basically forcing their incumbent All-Star third baseman Michael Young into a designated hitter role.
After the game, Rangers manager Ron Washington smiled as he talked about the play. He’d seen Beltre make those head-shaking plays so many times before against him. At least now, Beltre was doing it for him.
“It’s what he does,” Washington said. “I’m just glad he’s on our team now.”
So are the Rangers hitters. When Beltre spent five years with the Mariners, and then last season with the Red Sox, Rangers hitters watched as he robbed hit after hit from them.
“We joke with him all the time that we are glad he’s on our team now because we were tired of hitting balls at him,” Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton said. “He’s just really good at what he does.”
Indeed, over the course of his career there has been little doubt about Beltre’s ability to play defense.
However, it was kind of forgotten how good of a hitter he can be. Playing in cavernous Safeco Field and on a team that offered little, if any, protection or RBI opportunities, Beltre never really put up eye-popping numbers with the Mariners. During his five years, he hit a respectable .266 and averaged about 21 homers and 79 RBI per season. Good numbers to be certain, but not great.
Last year with the Red Sox, he put up great numbers, hitting .321 with 48 doubles, 29 homers, 102 RBI and an on-base plus slugging percentage of .919.
“I was just comfortable,” Beltre said of his success.
But the situation in Texas had a level of discomfort when Beltre was signed.
Young, who had been the starting third baseman for the past few seasons, wasn’t enamored with the idea of being relegated to a designated hitter. He asked to be traded before spring training but his contract and the Rangers high demands got in the way.
And yet, in the clubhouse there seems no sense of rivalry or discontent. Both Beltre and Young are too professional, and the Rangers are too focused on getting the Rangers back to the World Series.
It’s why Beltre spurned a better offer from the Oakland A’s – he wanted to go to a team with the best chance of getting to the postseason.
“That’s what you want, you want to win,” Beltre said. “It’s what we all want.”
The Rangers, with most of last year’s team returning, gave him that chance.
“Coming off of last season and seeing our team, I think it makes it very attractive to a guy out there on the free-agent market,” Hamilton said.
While the addition of Beltre makes an already loaded Rangers lineup that much better, there are still some questions surrounding the pitching staff.
The Rangers weren’t able to re-sign Cliff Lee in the offseason, leaving them without a true No. 1 starter.
Lefty C.J. Wilson will move to the top of the rotation after a career year in which he finished 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA. Right-handers Tommy Hunter (13-4, 3.73) and Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA) had solid seasons, but the back of the rotation is a question with lefties Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.
On paper, it seems like a staff good enough to help the Rangers repeat as American League West champs, but maybe not enough to go much further.
Perhaps, they will make a trade midseason, maybe unloading Young for another frontline pitcher.
“I like what I see from this team,” Beltre said. “Hopefully we can stay healthy and do our job and do what we all want to do.”
One thing is for certain. Beltre is a Texas Ranger now.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, we are going to welcome them in and make them feel like a part of a team,” Hamilton said. “A lot of us know what it’s like to be in a new situation. And the quicker you can relax, the easier it is to just go play.
“We are glad Adrian is here. We are glad we have him on our side now.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org
2010 Record/Finish: 90-72, American League champions, lost in World Series.
Manager: Ron Washington (fifth season).
Key additions: 3B Adrian Beltre, RHP Brandon Webb, C Yorvit Torrealba, LHP Arthur Rhodes, C/1B Mike Napoli.
Key losses: LHP Cliff Lee, DH Vladimir Guerrero, RHP Frank Francisco, C Bengie Molina, INF Jorge Cantu, OF Jeff Francoeur, RHP Rich Harden.
Outlook: It was quite a season for the Rangers in 2010. The franchise was sold after a late bidding process. They acquired Cliff Lee and then had a magical run all the way into the World Series. So can they carry that magic into this season? They return the bulk of the players from that team including Josh Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP. The addition of Adrian Beltre makes Texas a stronger team defensively but the chemistry in the clubhouse was upset a little because Michael Young asked to be traded rather than be the designated hitter. But it appears Young is going to stay with the Rangers for the time being and it only makes their lineup that much better. With Young, Hamilton, Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler, the Rangers have a core of hitters that’s as good as any in baseball. But the question is pitching. They couldn’t re-sign Lee, leaving them without a true ace. C.J. Wilson was good last season and Colby Lewis was a surprise, but they will need more from Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland to make another run.
Player to watch: Michael Young. Regardless of what he thinks, he was regressing defensively and Beltre is an upgrade. Young will play some first base and second base along with DH, and he can still hit. His contract makes him difficult to trade. Expect him to be fine; he’s too much of a professional to cause problems in the clubhouse.
Will win the West if ... they just simply play to their level. The pitching is probably good enough to win the division, but not the World Series.
Ryan Divish, staff writer
SSElvis Andrus.265 0 35
LF Josh Hamilton.359 32 100
3B Adrian Beltre .321 28 102
RF Nelson Cruz .31822 78
DH Michael Young .284 21 91
1B Mitch Moreland .255 9 25
C Yorvit Torrealba .271 7 37
CF Julio Borbon .276 3 42
RHP Colby Lewis12-133.72
LHP Derek Holland3-44.08