Friday I was treated to a nice writeup of Adrian Beltre, courtesy of Josh's Thoughts. It's well done, nicely summarizing the rewards and issues surrounding acquiring Beltre.
It's been a hot topic lately, and I spoke about it with several smart guys on Seth's podcast last last week. Twins fans interest seems to be high, but is tempered as soon as you begin to throw out names. Everyone loves the idea of getting him for prospects. But bring up on of the young members of the pitching staff, or one of the glut of young outfielders, and opinions become more guarded in a hurry.
The problem is that we're not going to get Beltre for Boof Bonser and Anthony Swarzak. A lot has been made about the Mariners being a struggling franchise with a bloated payroll. But before we start thinking that the Mariners are going to give away Beltre for some magic beans, we should look at some other factors as well:
1. The Third Baseman market is Olson Twin thin. You could make a case that the 3rd best free agent third baseman this year is going to be Mike Lamb. When the cream of the crop is Casey Blake, who has mostly been a super-utility guy for his whole career, then the market is razor thin.
The demand for Beltre is going to be far, far greater than the supply of Adrian Beltre. What is a "fair" trade isn't really relevant. What will be relevant is what the market will bear, and the market is going to bear a lot more than 2-3 B level prospects.
2. The Mariners dont NEED to move Beltre's salary off the books. Yeah, their payroll is huge, but there isn't lot of evidence that it's a stretch for the Mariners:
2006: $ 87,959,833
2005: $ 87,754,334
2004: $ 81,515,834
(Thanks to the indispensable Cott's Baseball Contracts)
There just isn't any evidence that the Mariners care one whit about cutting payroll, and there is plenty to indicate otherwise. For instance, when a team flat out rejects an offer to take unload the $10 M contract of Jarrod Washburn (which the Mariners did this year), I think we can safely assume there isn't any urgency for them to slash payroll.
That high payroll level also means that they don't to worry about "fill-in" players. Next year will likely be the last year they'll need to pay Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Batista, Jarrod Washburn and possible Erik Bedard. All told, that'll free over $50 million in payroll. They'll be able to sign all the lower-end free agents they would ever want.
With all those holes and all that money, they Mariners are going to be shopping for players with some Big League chops, or at least with some tremendous upside. The Twins don'thave the latter in the high level of their minors. But they do have plenty of candidates to plug some of those rotation holes, and a couple of guys who could replace Adam Jones, who the Mariners traded away last offseason, in center field.
In short, we need to start thinking of the Mariners in much the same was we think about the Mets. They have money, and they have expectation, and the pressure will be to compete sooner rather than later. Discussing them trading Beltre for a collection of minor leaguers is likely a fantasy. One of the Twins young regulars is going to be the starting point.