When I say got away, I mean literally he walked away. For nothing. It wasn’t via trade like Pedro Martinez or Mike Piazza…
Nevertheless, Tuesday marked former Dodger Adrian Beltre’s 41st year on this earth and it brought back a slew of memories and thoughts of what could have been if he stayed in LA.
On Adrián Beltré's 41st birthday, let's remember why he's one of a kind.
Happy birthday, Adrián! pic.twitter.com/MFRuoUrBTc
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 7, 2020
The future Hall of Famer signed with the Dodgers as an amateur free agent out of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in 1994. He made his big league debut in 1998 as a 19-year-old collecting 2 hits in 5 at-bats, starting a career that would ultimately end 21 seasons later with 3,166 hits and 477 home runs in between.
For 7 of those seasons, Beltre suited up for your Los Angeles Dodgers and provided a consistently inconsistent presence to the lineup, at least with the bat. While the hit tool took some time to develop — and it did in a huge way — the glove and arm were at Gold Glove levels from just about day one, even if the trophy case says otherwise (because Gold Glove voting is trash).
From 1998-2003, the young slugger was a mixed bag at bat. In 810 games spanning those 6 seasons, Beltre triple slashed .262/.320/.428 (.748 on-base plus slugging) with 99 home runs for a mostly middling Dodger club.
Then something clicked.
Thanks in part to a mechanical adjustment with his stance suggested by then Dodgers hitting coach Tim Wallach, Adrian went from a solid bat to an MVP runner-up in the National League.
Straight away to slightly open stance from his debut…
Closed stance = big time pop.
Beltre went on to bomb 48 (!) home runs with an OPS over 1.000 and a WAR total of 9.6. Holy cow. It was an electric season that saw him finish in second place in MVP voting — losing out to Barry Bonds — and that saw the Dodgers enter the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
LA won only one game in the 2004 playoffs (thank you, Lima time) before the start of another long, cold winter for the front office.
A Different Era
Here are some names that might bring back some nightmares if you were old enough to remember those times…
Adrian Beltre was a free agent for the first time during the 2004-2005 offseason and he made it known that he wanted to return to Los Angeles — something he felt worked against him in negotiations. It’s also something he talked about with former LA Times scribe Andy McCullough in 2018.
He wanted to sign early and remain a Dodger. Early in the winter, Beltre recalled, he and [Scott] Boras met with DePodesta and McCourt.
“The conversation went well,” Beltre said. “The owner said, ‘Make sure you sign him.’ That was early November, I think, and after that I didn’t hear from them until late December. I think the GM tried to use the knowledge that he had against me.”
Then the Seattle Mariners swooped in and made a fair deal (at the time) for five years and $64M while the Dodgers eventually countered with an offer that was “half the years and very much half the money,” according to the free agent third baseman.
Beltre left Los Angeles and a gaping hole at third base not fully filled until Justin Turner came to town almost 10 years later. While players came and went, none would mean to the Dodgers what Beltre could have meant.
For 14 seasons after that near-MVP 2004, Beltre slugged 330 home runs, posted an OPS of .830, and became one of the most lovable figures in all of baseball… and he should have done it all with Los Angeles.
Moreover, it’s a sentiment echoed by former teammate and current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
It’s one of those things where you wish he could have been a Dodger for his entire career. The way the economics worked out, he wasn’t. But he’s always considered L.A. home.
What made it worse was that the economics were there. Later that offseason, DePodesta signed free agents Jeff Kent, JD Drew, and Derek Lowe to contracts exceeding $130M. Drew left after two seasons thanks to an opt-out provision. Lowe was an overpaid but effective starter that held the label of ace through his four seasons in blue. Kent finished his career with the Dodgers and remained an effect bat in the lineup, when healthy.
Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre assembled a no-doubt Hall of Fame resume for teams not called the Los Angeles Dodgers. And that sucks.