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More Suitors for Adrian Beltre

Adrian Beltre might very well be the best remaining free agent, but at this point he doesn’t have many clear suitors. Last week, after we heard light rumors that the Angels were taking a step back, Matthew explored some other possible fits. One of those bit the dust yesterday, as Ken Rosenthal reports that the A’s have removed themselves from the picture. While the Angels, despite the rumors, remain the favorites to sign Beltre, there is one other team that I can see making a run.

Toronto Blue Jays

As the Blue Jays move closer and closer to contention, we’re going to see them connected to more and more top-tier free agents. Beltre would be a nice fit with the team now and in the future. He’d provide the defense that the team just doesn’t have at third base, and his bat would fit well into the lineup.

Wait just a second. Didn’t the Blue Jays lead the majors in third baseman WAR? Why, yes they did. But that’s all Jose Bautista, who produced 6.9 WAR. Edwin Encarnacion was the next highest scorer at 1.8 WAR. Neither Bautista nor Encarnacion rates well defensively at third, so Beltre would provide an upgrade there. He’d also add another potent bat to the lineup. Imagine if the Blue Jays trotted this out on Opening Day:

1. Yunel Escobar, SS
2. Adrian Beltre, 3B
3. Adam Lind, 1B
4. Jose Bautista, RF
5. Vernon Wells, CF
6. Travis Snider, LF
7. Random DH Guy, DH
8. Aaron Hill, 2B
9. J.P. Arencibia, C

(You can rearrange as you see fit, but this is a strong lineup that could get even stronger with a suitable DH.)

With a little progress from Snider and bounce backs from Lind and Hill this could be an even better offense than in 2010 — and that’s even assuming a much lesser season from Bautista. Defensively the team is sound if not good. Add that to a young and good pitching staff, and you have a dark horse candidate in the AL East.

In terms of payroll, Baseball Reference has the Jays at $78.8 million right now, which is right around their level from last season. If they sign Beltre and a DH (Manny Ramirez?), they can still probably keep the payroll around $100 million. Whether they’re willing to do that is another story. But if they do, I wouldn’t count them out of the AL East hunt at all.

The Angels still have to remain the favorites, despite what’s rumbling in the rumor mill. The Blue Jays, though, could certainly make a surprise run. There are also a few other teams that could use Beltre, but for some reason or another — for most it’s payroll — I can’t see it happening.

St. Louis: Matthew mentioned them, and as a pure fit I agree. Beltre would help shore up some uncertainty at third base, and would also help fulfill GM John Mozeliak’s prediction that the the Cardinals will be a “good defensive club, if not better,” in 2011. But they’re already at $111.7 million in payroll this year. Looking ahead, if they pay Albert Pujols $25 million next year and pick up options for Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina they’re looking at $110 million committed to nine players in 2012 (including Beltre at roughly $15 million). I don’t think that’s going to fly.

Chicago AL: In the same way as the Cardinals, the White Sox are getting up there in payroll. B-R has them at $119.3 million, which is right around their all-time high of $121 million (2008). After signing Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko they appear tapped out, but signing Beltre could help shore up a position of relative weakness — they ranked 28th in third baseman WAR last season. But with the payroll situation they’ll probably use a combination of Mark Teahen, Brent Morel, and Dayan Viciedo to fill the spot.

Florida: The Fish are already up at around $80 million in payroll, so it’s doubtful that they’ll add another penny. But a starting eight of Beltre, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, Logan Morrison, John Buck, and Omar Infante could make some waves in 2011.

Milwaukee: They’re going all in, and Beltre would be an upgrade over Casey McGehee. But it appears that Milwaukee’s sights are on 2011 and 2011 only at this point. I’m not sure they’d want to add that much payroll to future years without seeing first how this one goes.

Texas: Another team mentioned by Matthew, the Rangers could play Beltre at third and move Michael Young to DH. Whether that’s an optimal use of resources, though, is another question. They can probably afford the payroll bump, since they’re right around last year’s payroll level currently.