Adrian Beltre

Hindsight 2020: Remember when the Red Sox chose the wrong All-Star to build around?

Hindsight 2020: Remember when the Red Sox chose the wrong All-Star to build around?

The Red Sox have made plenty of shrewd acquisitions over the last 20 years, from signing David Ortiz to trading for Curt Schilling to drafting Mookie Betts, with four World Series trophies as a result.

But given their volume of high-profile deals, it's inevitable that some will miss.

And so to kick off our Hindsight 2020 series from a front office perspective, we're going to break down one Red Sox move that would best be undone.

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From an historical perspective, convincing Harry Frazee not to send Babe Ruth to the Yankees would probably be a good place to start, but that's too obvious. If we fast-forward to Christmas of 1980, then we'd encourage Haywood Sullivan to show a little more urgency finding a post office with free agency beckoning for Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn. That's another easy one.

Bad free agent decisions usually stem from organizational breakdowns, which is why Ben Cherington's decision to sign Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in the 2014 offseason isn't the choice, nor is Theo Epstein's acquisition of Carl Crawford or Matt Clement. Those were moves born of necessity after other player development and/or payroll mishaps.

No, today, we're going to consider an overlooked decision that nevertheless cost the franchise a Hall of Famer. Money wasn't the issue, nor was desperation. This came down to straight talent evaluation between a pair of All-Stars, and the Red Sox chose wrong.

So let's revisit the case of Adrian Beltre and the circumstances that led him to leave Boston after a one-and-done season that could've been so much more.

A 48-home run hitter and MVP runner-up with the Dodgers in 2004, Beltre signed a five-year, $64 million contract with the Mariners that left him spending his prime in exile, lost to the cavernous dimensions of Safeco Field.

He failed to make an All-Star team or top 26 homers in the Pacific Northwest, though he did win a pair of Gold Gloves. When he hit free agency before the 2010 season, agent Scott Boras sought a "pillow contract" that would allow Beltre to re-establish his value before returning to free agency a year later.

The Red Sox provided it with a one-year, $10 million offer. Beltre rewarded them, and then some, hitting .321, leading the league in doubles, making his first All-Star team, and winning a Silver Slugger. The Red Sox missed the playoffs anyway because of lousy pitching beyond 19-game winner Jon Lester and All-Star Clay Buchholz.

It wasn't Beltre's fault. He delivered not just on the field, but in the clubhouse, where his combination of professionalism, intensity, and self-deprecation made him widely respected, a reputation that would only grow in ensuing seasons. (There's a reason, a decade later, that Mitch Moreland believed Beltre would be just the man to mentor Rafael Devers through early-career struggles.)

Beltre's contract was structured to guarantee he'd spend only one year in Boston, with a $5 million player option both sides knew he'd decline.

Boston faced decisions that offseason. Both Beltre and All-Star catcher Victor Martinez were free agents, and Epstein had his sights on the long-time object of his affection: All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

At that point in their respective careers, few would've argued the 30-year-old Beltre represented a better bet than the 27-year-old Gonzalez, a former No. 1 overall pick who had already won a pair of Gold Gloves while blasting 40 homers in San Diego, no hitter's paradise.

With homegrown All-Star Kevin Youkilis one year into a $41 million extension and capable of playing either corner, Epstein had a decision to make: Beltre at third or Gonzalez at first.

He didn't have to think long or hard. He had openly lusted after Gonzalez for years, and on Dec. 6, swung a deal with former protégé Jed Hoyer, sending a package of three prospects, including future All-Star Anthony Rizzo, to San Diego.

Beltre was attending David Ortiz's charity golf tournament in the Dominican and didn't know the deal had been consummated until a couple of Boston reporters relayed the news. He grimaced, but his sadness proved short-lived. Within a month, the Rangers delivered a five-year, $80 million offer that might be the best free agent contract of the decade.

Over the next eight years, Beltre transformed himself into a Hall of Famer, making three All-Star teams, winning three Gold Gloves, and finishing in the top 10 of MVP voting for five straight years. He recorded his 3,000th hit in a Rangers uniform, and was a driving force behind four playoff berths, including a heartbreaking World Series loss to the Cardinals in 2011.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez immediately signed a $154 million extension and posted monster numbers, but nonetheless came to represent the unlikable, entitled and whiny 2011 team that collapsed down the stretch. A year later, Cherington blew up the roster by shipping Gonzalez, Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers.

It's easy to wonder what might've been. Youkilis shifted to third from first base, where he had won a Gold Glove, and made an All-Star team, but injuries had already started taking their toll. A year later, he'd be traded after clashing with manager Bobby Valentine.

The 2011 collapse made Valentine's disastrous tenure possible, because it forced out both Epstein and manager Terry Francona. Could Beltre, one of the game's most respected leaders, had made a difference that September? Outside of Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox wilted and desperately needed a steadying influence. At the very least, Beltre probably wouldn't have complained about inconvenient Sunday night travel while the season was going down the toilet.

If there's a saving grace, it's that Epstein and the front office recognized the deep 2011 draft as their final opportunity to spend with impunity before baseball imposed limits in the new CBA. They used the two compensatory picks they received for Beltre to take Blake Swihart and Jackie Bradley Jr. as part of a haul that also yielded Matt Barnes, Mookie Betts, and Travis Shaw.

Bradley helped the team win a World Series in 2018, and he also earned a ring in 2013.

Gonzalez posted solid but unspectacular numbers in L.A. before hitting .237 in 54 games with the 2018 Mets. He hasn't played since, meaning his career is likely over at age 37.

Beltre also played his final game in 2018, but he departed to significantly more fanfare, retiring with 3,166 hits, 477 homers, 93.6 WAR ... and one giant what-might-have-been in Boston.

Mitch Moreland explains why he connected Rafael Devers with future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre

Mitch Moreland explains why he connected Rafael Devers with future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mitch Moreland saw locker mate Rafael Devers struggling early last season and wanted to do something to help. Unfortunately, there was a language barrier, because Devers speaks Spanish and Moreland speaks what he calls "Mississippi."

But he knew one man who could make a difference -- future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre.

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The two played together in Texas on opposite corners of the diamond, and Moreland figured the Gold Glove third baseman could provide some guidance for Devers, who boasts similar superstar potential.

"I was like, man, I happen to know the greatest third baseman whoever came out of the Dominican Republic, I'm sure this guy knows Adrian, probably looks up to him, a role model to Raff," Moreland explained on Friday. "I was like, you want to talk to Adrian? He goes, think he would? I was like, yeah. I texted and called Adrian and he was like, man, please, give him my number, get us in contact, and they talked a few times. Adrian, I think checked on him. Adrian is that type of guy. I mean, first-class, professional teammate. I still talk to him today for stuff I have to deal with.

"I can't think of a better person for Raff to be in contact with to help him through the struggles, through the highs and the lows as far as that goes."

Devers and Beltre ending up talking once or twice a month for the rest of the season. Devers, at 22, put Beltre's advice to good use, finishing a breakout campaign with a league-leading 54 doubles and 359 total bases, batting .311 with 32 homers, 115 RBI, and a .916 OPS.

"Raff, he's going to be a special player for a long time, so if he can learn a little something from Adrian to help him, great," Moreland said. "I thought that would be a good one to know, a good one to talk to. That's kind of what happened and the reason I got them in contact or even got it started."


 

How future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre quietly helped turn around Rafael Devers' season

How future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre quietly helped turn around Rafael Devers' season

SAN DIEGO -- It was easily one of the low points of Rafael Devers' otherwise breakout 2019, but it led to a phone call that changed his season.

On May 2 in Chicago, Devers booted a ground with one out in the ninth and the Red Sox holding a 4-3 lead over the White Sox. Two batters later, Nick Delmonico launched a walkoff three-run homer, and a disconsolate Devers admitted that he "played a significant role in the loss."

Teammate Mitch Moreland, however, saw an opportunity. He put Devers in touch with a former Rangers teammate who knows a thing or two about manning the hot corner -- five-time Gold Glover and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre.

The two spoke a couple of times a month for the rest of the season, and Red Sox manager Alex Cora is excited to see what impact Beltre's wisdom will have on Devers in 20202.

"He took it personally," Cora said of the Chicago error. "And I'll say it now, after that, Mitch actually, he made a phone call to the Dominican Republic and talked to Adrian, and Adrian talked to Raffy, and from there on, the communication was on an every-other-week basis, and there's a few things that Adrian told him to do in the offseason and what he should do in spring training, and looking forward for him to work that way and see where it takes him."

After making nine errors in his first 31 games, Devers made just 13 the rest of the way, and the Red Sox expect he'll continue making strides next season.

"As far as like moving and decisions and what he did last year compared to where he was in my first year, it's night and day," Cora said. "The confidence, too."

Tomase: Sox offseason plans could come into focus this week>>>

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