Adrian Beltre is still a free agent and Scott Boras is still his agent. Matt Holliday is still a bigger name and will still receive a bigger contract, but discounting the assumed stare-down between Theo Epstein and Boras over Beltre’s contract demands is amusing if nothing else. A few weeks back Boston trotted out manager Terry Francona to talk up Casey Kotchman. Why Kotchman? Because if the season began tomorrow, Kotchman would man first while the incumbent, Kevin Youkilis, moved across the diamond to third. Epstein also talked up Kotchman in the press, focusing mostly on his strong contact skills.
Pretend, for a moment, that Youkilis would field equally at third and first. I know he wouldn’t, but just pretend. Over the last three years, Kotchman has hit .279/.346/.421 while the ‘disappointing’ Beltre has batted .269/.318/.444 with 59 homers. Those numbers aren’t park-adjusted, which means Beltre is still being punished heavily for playing within Safeco’s constricting park. Even so, Beltre is only four OPS points off. Defensively Kotchman is above average for a first baseman while Beltre is well above average for a third baseman. Putting it all together, Kotchman’s career best season (2.5 WAR) is barely better than Beltre’s worst season since 2002 (2.4 WAR).
In fewer words: Beltre is a better player than Kotchman. How much better and how much money is the upgrade worth to Boston?
Let’s dive back into the Youkilis-to-third predicament first. His career sample at first is more than double his time at third (~3,802 innings versus just under 1,600) and in those spans we have UZR/150 of 8.6 at third and 6.5 at first. That implies he’s actually better at third base, although most of that time at third base came in 2004. Youkilis was 25 then, not 31 like next season. For the sake of argument, let’s say Youkilis is five runs worse at third than first next season. Feel free to adjust that as you see fit, but remember it’s better to be conservative than optimistic.
With that in mind; estimate Beltre at ~10 runs defensively and ~5runs offensively. That makes him a three and a half win player. Kotchman is probably good for a win, maybe a bit more. Let’s say the difference is two wins and then factor in the Youkilis transition. Overall a 2.5 win upgrade. Wins are going for roughly $3.5M so Beltre is worth $8.75M more than Kotchman. Meaning the tops Boston should give Beltre is just under $9M. Given Boston’s placement on the win curve and how much those additional wins could help to distance themselves from Tampa, it seems the reported asking price of $10-15M isn’t too far-fetched after all.
Worth noting: one of the four players represented by Boras on Boston’s roster is J.D. Drew, who shares quite a bit with Beltre in the means of unfair criticism and a sentence to perennially underrated purgatory. I wonder if they would get along and tell war stories.