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Lyle Spencer

Dependable Beltre an overlooked MVP candidate

Dependable Beltre an overlooked MVP candidate

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ANAHEIM -- The Most Valuable Player Award conversation in the American League starts with reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera. From there, it goes to Orioles slugger Chris Davis, then to Angels superstar Mike Trout. Eventually, it might find its way to Adrian Beltre, which is a shame.

As great as Cabrera, Davis and Trout have been, it's hard to imagine any player in the league being as valuable to his team -- a contending team, at that -- than the artful Rangers third baseman who drives in runs, saves runs and leads his team with a physical and mental toughness that can't be measured by numbers.

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"I think he's had an MVP-caliber season, and I'd love to see it," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "But there are guys -- Cabrera, Davis, Trout -- putting up huge numbers. When Adrian's had his best years -- '04, '12 and '13 -- you've had guys who have done superhuman things, on another planet: Barry Bonds, Cabrera.

"It's no criticism of Adrian. His timing has been off. If he'd have had one of these years in a normal year, he'd be right there."

Beltre entered a weekend series against the Angels hitting .322 with 28 homers, 83 RBIs and 79 runs. He leads his team in basically all offensive categories, including slugging (.527) and on-base percentage (.376), and contributes highlight-reel plays defensively.

"He's one of those guys who can carry a team on his back," Angels ace Jered Weaver said. "I think we had a chance at one time [after the 2010 season] to get him. It would have been nice to see him in Halos colors instead of Rangers colors. He's put a hurtin' on us.

"It's hard to tell where they'd be without him."

Opting for Texas and a six-year, $96 million free-agent deal following a big year in Boston, Beltre has been arguably the most valuable free-agent acquisition of the past three seasons.

"He's been an absolute stud since he got here [on] Day 1," Daniels said. "From Day 1 in Spring Training to the last pitch of the season, it's an intensity level with Adrian that never stops."

Daniels and the Rangers see Beltre's value every day, in every way. They know they'd be in trouble without his multiple gifts. Cabrera, in Detroit, and Davis, in Baltimore, are surrounded by threats. Trout is having another superlative year, but his team is under .500.

"Great player, great guy," Trout said of Beltre. "He's a gamer, the kind of player other players really appreciate."

The Rangers are a winning club with championship aspirations, and Beltre is clearly the No. 1 reason.

"He's been carrying that ballclub since April by himself," Pujols said. "Look at his numbers."

Beltre has been simply indispensable. Absent when the Rangers met in Surprise, Ariz., for Spring Training were Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli, weapons in manager Ron Washington's lineup during a three-year postseason run.

This was a season of transition in Texas even before Nelson Cruz, the slugging right fielder, was banned for using performance-enhancing drugs. Cruz, who plans to be back for the postseason, had 27 homers and 76 RBIs through 108 games. But he was not the most feared man in a Rangers uniform.

"I'm sure when [Angels manager Mike] Scioscia is talking to the pitchers about the one guy he doesn't want to beat us, it's Adrian," Pujols said. "But he still does it."

Pujols tried to get through the season with knee and foot ailments before shutting it down. Beltre, his teammate with the Dominican Republic's 2006 World Baseball Classic team, has that same competitive spirit that drove Pujols to continue when it was painful just to watch him try to run.

"He's hurt all the time," Pujols said, "but he doesn't care about how he feels. He doesn't wants to come out. He's been the same guy always. He's probably the best third baseman I have ever seen, right there with my good friend, Placido Polanco. To get a ball past Beltre, you have to hit it three or four feet by him."

Beltre's biggest year came at age 25 in 2004, his seventh and final season with the Dodgers. He had more hits (200), home runs (48) and RBIs (125) than Bonds, the runaway MVP. Pujols was third in the Baseball Writers Association of America balloting that year, claiming his first of three MVP awards in '05.

"Me, him and Bonds were all right there," Pujols said. "It could have been any of us. Adrian's been a great player and a great guy from a leadership standpoint. He brings a lot to that team."

Beltre's five seasons in Seattle were largely productive, but not to the level expected of a man in his salary neighborhood. The move to Boston and Fenway Park, where long Seattle outs became doubles and home runs, reignited his career. He hit .321 with 28 homers and 102 RBIs, leading the AL with 49 doubles.

"In 2010, what he did with Boston established a new normal for what you expect from him offensively," Daniels said. "Physically, he's as tough a player as there is. He plays through things that would put other guys on the DL, guaranteed.

"There are different ways to lead. Adrian does it by example. He's not a real vocal guy in the clubhouse, but he's so consistent with his energy. When we signed him, we knew we were getting an elite defensive player with a lot of offensive ability. The question was, how consistent would he be? He's been at the top of the charts in offensive consistency."

He might be challenged to repeat his third-place MVP finish of a year ago, but Beltre, at 34, has been as good as ever -- and as good as it gets.

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

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