MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Beltre plans long, fruitful run with Rangers

Beltre plans long, fruitful run with Rangers

Beltre plans long, fruitful run with Rangers
You would think that a Major League player with almost 2,000 games under his belt wouldn't be looking too deeply into the future as a free agent, that his interests would be relatively short-term.

But in the extraordinary case of Adrian Beltre, one of the quietly enduring stars of his era, you would be wrong.

It was with one foot planted in the here and now and the other dangling in the future that Beltre -- whose three-homer epic on Tuesday at Tropicana Field sent his club into the American League Championship Series -- decided to join the Texas Rangers over the winter as a free agent.

"It wasn't about money," Beltre said, having ended the Rays' dream season with three swings. "It was about winning. It was all about winning. Not just for one year -- for multiple years."

The money -- $80 million guaranteed across five years, with a $16 million option for 2016 -- isn't bad at all, mind you. But Beltre insists that it wasn't the deciding factor.

"At the time I felt this team had a better chance to win the ring than the other teams," he said. "The young guys are going to be here for a while, and they're good. That's one of the things I was looking at.

"Texas gave me the best chance to put a ring on my finger, and now I'm just two steps away from it."

Beltre, 32, is a baseball lifer. He was 15 when he signed a professional contract with the Dodgers, a typical kid out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, who yearned to make his way in the game he loved.

Four years later he was playing third base in Los Angeles. In March 2001, after establishing himself in two and a half seasons with the Dodgers, he had a serious abdominal ailment that required complicated surgery, and he didn't come off the disabled list until May.

He would play seven years for the Dodgers, peaking with a timely and mammoth 2004 season (.334 average, 48 homers, 121 RBIs) preceding his first free-agency fling.

He signed with Seattle, and spent five seasons with the Mariners before Boston gave him a one-year free-agent deal in 2010.

All those years, and the graceful third baseman with few equals had appeared in just one postseason series. His 2004 Dodgers were subdued in four games by the Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

Fifteen postseason plate appearances in a career spanning 13 seasons and 1,835 games. That was very much in Beltre's mind when Boston took another course -- Adrian Gonzalez's arrival from San Diego, which left third base to Kevin Youkilis -- and let him walk on the heels of 28 homers, 102 RBIs and a .321 average.

"We spoke," he said of the Red Sox. "We had a conversation. But it never happened."

Beltre then shifted his focus to contenders elsewhere. The West -- he owns a home in Southern California -- certainly had its appeal. But as he weighed options, it kept coming back to one critical factor:

Is this organization serious about winning and equipped to sustain a run of excellence?

"I spent a lot of years in the big leagues with teams that weren't built to be in the playoffs," he said. "At this time in my career, I want to win. That's the most important thing to me. I want to be in the playoffs -- not just once. I want to have a chance every year."

Beltre figured, correctly, that the Angels would be interested. They needed a third baseman and were widely considered the favorites for his services, despite their history of discord with his agent, Scott Boras.

When the Rangers, who had lost out in their bid to retain ace Cliff Lee, shifted their attention to him, Beltre took a good, hard look at what they had to offer: a loaded lineup, a deep pitching staff, youthful talent throughout the roster, strong leadership.

His conclusion? Texas was the place for him.

Beltre's signing initially created some confusion over the role of Michael Young, the team's conscience -- and All-Star third baseman. As often happens, everything was resolved in the natural course of things when the Rangers elected, wisely, not to trade Young.

Moving around the infield and serving as designated hitter, Young had a brilliant season, batting .338 with 106 RBIs. Beltre's season numbers -- .296, 32 homers, 105 RBIs -- were equally stunning given that he missed five weeks with a strained hamstring. His .561 slugging percentage was the second highest of his career.

"He puts up over 100 RBIs, 30-some home runs, close to .300 batting average [and] missed [five] weeks," Josh Hamilton said. "You know, I'd like to see him healthy for the full year."

And at Tropicana Field on Tuesday, Beltre unleashed the game of his life.

Even though he'd gone hitless in the first two home games against the Rays and was 1-for-11 going into Game 4, a quality batting practice session had him in a positive frame of mind.

He lifted fastballs by Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson out of the yard in his first two at-bats, then rocked phenom Matt Moore, who was virtually flawless in the series, on another heater.

Beltre became the second right-handed hitter and sixth overall to homer three times in a postseason game, and the first to do it in a Division Series.

"Two of the balls he hit weren't even in the strike zone," Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said. "There's nothing you can do about that."

Tampa Bay first baseman Casey Kotchman marveled at Beltre's performance.

"The guy has serious power," Kotchman said. "Plus, he's in the right lineup, surrounded by tough hitters. Mike Napoli is hitting sixth, behind Beltre. That's pretty good protection, a guy with 30 home runs."

For Beltre's final Game 4 at-bat, which came with two runners on in the eighth, right-hander Wade Davis was summoned from the bullpen.

He flied out to right, but Beltre was more than satisfied with providing three of the runs Texas needed -- Ian Kinsler's homer added the fourth -- to dispatch Tampa Bay and move on to his first League Championship Series.

This could be the start of something big for Adrian Beltre in the Lone Star State, where he plans to make October a regular part of his season.

"To put a ring on my finger," he said, "that would answer all my questions about whether I made the right decision."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.