As both losses and injuries mount, GM Jon Daniels is exploring his trade prospects for his “core” players: Joakim Soria, Alex Rios, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, and even Yu Darvish. Assuming Darvish stays, Beltre becomes the best player on the block, but his trade value may not be what all that high.
Beltre has been a force ever since he escaped Seattle, both for Boston and Texas, but he is 35 and, with his early-season DL stint, a possible injury concern. Older players rarely attract lucrative offers from opposing teams, but the ones that do are, not surprisingly, close to elite when they are traded. Beltre doesn’t share a perfect comparable, but the best one, Carlos Beltran, paints a disappointing picture for his potential trade value.
Since players in their mid-30’s are rarely valued for their defense, I chose to use wRC+ (a weighted batting statistic) instead of fWAR (an all-encompassing one). I filtered the players’ ages so that only seasons played from 31 (roughly around the time value starts dropping) to 35 (Beltre’s age) in the 2009-2013 seeasons count toward wRC+. No third base comparables existed so I included all positions.
The top five:
Holliday, Thome, and Beltran were all traded at least once from 2009-2013, but Beltran represents the only legitimate comparable. Holliday’s post-30 production occurred after he was trade and Thome, traded on August 31st, 2009, only spent a month with the Los Angeles Dodgers before departing in free agency for Minnesota.
The New York Mets traded Beltran to San Francisco for prospect Zack Wheeler on July 27th, 2011. Prior to 2011, Baseball America rated Wheeler, the Giants’ 6th pick in the 2009 draft, as the team’s second best prospect and the 55th overall. He was probably even more valuable when the Mets acquired him, as the same publication ranked him 35th overall the next year.
To put that in perspective, Baseball America ranked Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman 55th this year and Yankees catcher Gary
Sanchez 35th. In between them (somewhere around where Wheeler was likely valued) is 2013 first overall pick Mark Appel (39th), Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton (43rd), and Jorge Alfaro (54th). Obviously, Wheeler represented a huge haul for a 34 year old soon-to-be outfielder.
Adrian Beltre is a better player at a more valuable position, but it isn’t a given that he could bring what Beltran did. This trade in particular is rued as one of Brian Sabean’s worst, so assuming Beltre would command a high-level prospect like Beltran did is unreaslistic, which is why he is disappointing comparable—his return reflects the absolute peak of what the Rangers could realistically expect but the actual offers will be almost certainly lower. Also, prospects, in a world of incredibly expensive free agents, command even more value than they did in 2011, so the chances ofhim commanding a high-level prospect are even slimmer still. Wheeler hasn’t been particularly effective in his major league career so far, but over his career he is an almost sure bet to produce drastically more for the Mets than two months of Carlos Beltran, and a high level prospect would, in his at least six years with the big club, produce more than two and a half years of a likely declining Adrian Beltre.
Also, at 35, he is at the point where player production starts to fall off a cliff, which, along with changing the prospect valuation calculus, causes his contract to act like an anchor in negotiations. He is set to make 18 million dollars in his age 36 season and possibly 16 million (due to a voidable option) in his age 37 season. The chances that a team risks their top prospect or two to acquire a player at this stage in his career with his contract are slim.
But it only takes one team infatuated with Beltre to bring a sizeable return. Some team could go all-in and mortgage their future on him maintaining his current pace.
The odds of such a team existing are very low.
If the absolute best case scenario is one top level prospect, factoring in his contract and age, an upper mid-level prospect (think like 90-100 overall) is more likely. He could also command a lottery ticket (low floor and high ceiling) or two in lieu of the relative security of a blue chip prospect.
It’s fair to say that such a return is disheartening for a perennial all-star, but old age and a large contract mean that the upside for prospective teams in trading for Adrian Beltre isn’t as high as one would assume.
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