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Angels The Favorites For Adrian Beltre?

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(David Andriesen/CBSSPORTS.COM) — Take a look at Adrian Beltre’s career stats, and it jumps out at you: huge spikes in performance when he’s playing for a contract.

In 2004 with the Dodgers, with free agency looming, he hit a league-leading 48 homers — he hadn’t hit more than 23 prior to that season and didn’t hit more than 26 during his five-year stay in Seattle.

In 2010, on a one-year contract, he batted .321/.365/.553 with a league-leading 49 doubles and the second-highest homer total (28) of his career.

In those two contract years, he batted a combined .328; in no other season has he eclipsed .290.

It’s not unusual for a player to step up in a walk year, and it pays to keep in mind that being healthy was a major factor in both seasons. Beltre is the toughest player I have ever covered, and has a tendency to play hurt and hide injuries, which has impacted his performance.

When there are no health issues standing in his way, hit potential is enormous.

Even an average Beltre year is pretty darned good, and very consistent. Per 162 games in his career, he’s averaged .275/.328/.462 with 89 RBI and 25 homers — all while playing elite defense at third base.

At 31, Beltre has some productive years left in him, and he’s going to be in high demand this winter.

STATS

2010: .321/.365/.553 with 28 home runs, 102 RBI
career: .275/.328/.462 with 278 home runs, 1,008 RBI

LAST CONTRACT
Coming off a disappointing and injury-plagued final season with the Mariners, Beltre took a chance on a one-year, incentive-heavy $10 million deal with the Red Sox. He had a player option of $10 million for 2011 (it doubled from $5 million when he passed 640 plate appearances — he finished with 641), but no way was he taking that when lucrative multi-year offers will be plentiful.

WHAT IT WILL TAKE
There haven’t been a lot of good comparisons in recent years to draw from, but look for Beltre to go three or four years at between $12-14 million per. Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised if he lands something bigger. His agent is Scott Boras, and Boras said this week that more teams than expected have shown interest. Bidding wars result in over-market contracts.

WHERE HE COULD GO

The Red Sox want to keep Beltre in Boston, general manager Theo Epstein telling reporters Friday that “our first choice for our third baseman in 2011 and beyond would be to bring back Adrian Beltre.” The problem is, the Sox also want to bring back Victor Martinez, and they probably can’t afford both. They just picked up a $12.5 million option on David Ortiz, and Jonathan Papelbon has a big salary due next year. If bidding on Beltre and Martinez climbs, the Red Sox might have to pick one.

The other strong possibility for Beltre is the Angels, which makes a lot of sense. Beltre is a West Coast guy who loves Los Angeles and keeps two houses in the area, and he’s not a fan of playing in cold weather. The Angels have a lot of money and a chance to win. But they, too, are going to pursue two tracks, and Carl Crawford appears to be their top target. It’s unlikely they could afford both Crawford and Beltre.

The Tigers have been reported as having interest, but it’s tough to see Beltre going to a tough place to hit after his frustrating experience with Safeco Field. The A’s reportedly made Beltre a multi-year offer last winter and are in serious need of an impact bat. He also could be on Toronto’s radar.

PREDICTION
This depends on what Crawford decides to do, but the best fit for Beltre seems to be the Angels.

– David Andriesen

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