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May 22, 2009 at 10:39 AM

Adrian Beltre’s slow start at the plate for Mariners hurts trade value in more ways than one

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We saw Adrian Beltre notch a couple of singles in two late at-bats last night, sparking hopes that he is finally coming around. We’ve been down that road before, so we’ll hold off on grand pronouncements until we see where it leads. One thing is for certain, though. Beltre’s slow start may have irreparably damaged his value on the trade front.
I’m not talking about his free agency next year, though that has likely been hurt as well. He was already going to take a hit with baseball salaries having dropped dramatically since his last contract.
But right now, I’m focusing on his trade value as a rent-a-player for the final two months of this season, should the Mariners continue to fall out of contention. That part has been damaged reputation-wise already, though Beltre can still go on a tear and rebuild that aspect of his value.
Still, there is a factual part that may be beyond repair. Let me explain.

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Heading into this season, there was an assumption that Beltre would be a Type A free agent at season’s end. In other words, like Raul Ibanez, he would bring his former team two high-round compensatory draft picks (forfeited by the signing team) once he departed. Usually, it’s a first-round pick in selections 16-30 and a “sandwich round pick” between Rounds 1 and 2. It can change if a team signs more than one Type A free agent, or has one of the top-15 picks in a draft, but usually it will be a first-rounder and sandwich round pick awarded as compensation.
The Elias Sports Bureau ranks the best free-agents as Type A, then lesser ones as Type B, then the rest, according to a complex — and frankly, very outdated — formula that goes back to the collective bargaining agreement of nearly 30 years ago. The formula is quite complex and very secretive. A Detroit Tigers blogger did some exceptional work on figuring it all out last fall and published his findings. We can use those as a guidepost to see where it’s all heading for Beltre this year.
A team losing a Type B free agent gets the signing team’s sandwich round pick, but that’s it. No first-rounder to go along with that. It’s still something, but not nearly as good.
Again, the Type A compensation is what the M’s got when Ibanez left and it was looking like Beltre could generate the same return.
Well, that’s no longer the case with Beltre because his slow start has put his Type A status in serious doubt. In fact, it may already be lost for good. And that hurts his trade value. If he was going to be a Type A free-agent, the Mariners could have used that as leverage and held out for better players at the trade deadline — telling teams they’d rather have the guaranteed draft picks than what was being offered up.
Type A status is also a selling point in mid-season trades. A team acquiring such a Type A a rent-a-player knows that, even if their playoff push doesn’t work out, they will always be able to get two high draft picks by letting that player go at season’s end. So, it brings added value and will make teams more willing to take a risk on such a player, other than merely whether he can help their playoff push.
Heading into this season, Beltre was clinging to his Type A status by the slimmest of margins. Now, though, it seems very unlikely he’ll stay in that range. Instead, he’s likely to become a Type B free-agent,
Here’s why.
As the Tigers blogger, Eddie Bajek, explained, the formula used by Elias to generate the rankings will vary according to the position of a player.
For third baseman, it’s calculated based on stats that are really going to hurt Beltre this year.
Here is what third basemen are scored on: plate appearances, batting average, on-base-percentage, home runs, RBI, fielding percentage and total chances.
Beltre should get the plate appearances. And the total chances. But the rest of it? Ugh. His batting average can be brought up, obviously, by going on a hot tear. But unless he starts clubbing home runs at a Barry Bonds (circa 2001) rate, he’ll be hurt in that category and hence, likely suffer in RBI as well.
On defense, no advanced metrics are used. Just plain old, pretty useless for measuring purposes, fielding percentage. And some of those early errors he’s made will cost him in that category. This formula won’t take into account that other third baseman may never have gotten to those balls. Nor will it reward Beltre for the exceptionally difficult plays he’s already made.
Nope, this formula, as I’ve mentioned, is Stone Age stuff. And Beltre is going to pay a price for his slow start by season’s end.
Players are scored on a revolving, two-year formula. Beltre is scored as a third baseman (getting points for how he fares in each category compared to other AL third basemen), and then his score is added to a rankings group alongside second basemen and shortstops. Only the top 20 percent of that total group gets Type A status.
As of last November, when the annual rankings are published, Beltre was the 14th Type A free-agent out of 15 in his group. He had 74.534 total points compared to 70.186 by the first Type B player, Scott Rolen. So, Beltre was holding on to his status by a thin margin.
But wait, that was based on combined numbers from a very good 2007 and a less good 2008. Going forward, he’ll be rated on that not-as-good 2008 and a now even-worse 2009. So, again, his odds of keeping Type A status are getting thinner by the day.
In November 2007, Beltre was 11th of 14 in his group with 76.0 points based on some very good 2006 and 2007 numbers. As you can see, he’s slipping by the year.
And if teams don’t think he can hold on to his Type A status, that’s going to seriously impact Beltre’s trade value come July.



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