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Loan Beltre If You Must, But Don't Lose Him
2004-06-28 15:36
by Jon Weisman

LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Losers of five straight at this writing, four of the five at Giants, which hurts. They will never outhit their pitching, so this little run at relevance has all been a Hollywood fantasy. Should be looking to deal Adrian Beltre to whatever contender is dumb enough to take him; resigning him would be folly. Would you buy a used car from this player?

- Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus

Steven Goldman hardly ever writes a sentence that I don't actively enjoy - never mind agree with - but he's gone flippant-and-a-half with this one. In a world that drools over three months of Carlos Beltran, allow me to present Adrian Beltre.

2004 Value Over Replacement Player
32.7 Beltre
27.2 Beltran

In his seventh season but only 25 years old, Beltre is much removed from the 1995 Hyundai stage. He has hit 36 home runs since last year's All-Star Game. Yes, if you're going to acquire a 2004 free agent whose last name begins with B-E-L-T, you could do a whole lot worse than the belter named Beltre.

And now, people are starting to speculate that teams will get that opportunity.

Two major trades have been completed in the past week - Beltran to the Astros and Freddy Garcia to the White Sox. Wags wonder what Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta is going to do - not only which players he might pursue, but also whether he will be a seller at the trading deadline instead of a buyer.

More than once in the past, I've suggested that the Dodgers should be sellers, even with a playoff spot in reach, to end the cycle of always being almost good enough but not quite. This year, the competition in the National League West, if not the entire league itself, is far less intimidating, so I'm not going to be so quick to wave the white flag.

As DePodesta himself said, however, a continued slide by the Dodgers could make their choice obvious. And so, though the question up to now has been how much the Dodgers should be willing to pay to resign Beltre, others are beginning to ask whether the Dodgers should be willing to trade Beltre for prospects.

Three thoughts:

Thesis: Having stood by Beltre so long while waiting for him to truly blossom, seeing him sent away would be particularly painful - as if the Dodgers had traded a 25-year-old, seventh-year-in-the-bigs Sandy Koufax in mid-1961.

Antithesis: The Dodgers basically never trade present talent for future talent, older talent for younger - so the curiosity of it, much less the potential, is fascinating.

Synthesis: The obvious solution to this riddle also basically never happens: The Dodgers trade Beltre for prospects and then resign him when he becomes a free agent after the season.

Why doesn't this happen? One thing is that the odds are against it - with 30 teams to choose from, a bigtime free agent resigning with his old team just isn't in the percentages.

However, the percentages skew dramatically in favor of such a return when a large-market team is involved. Now, we still don't know how large-market the Dodgers under Frank McCourt will act, but let's face it, Los Angeles is probably not competing with Kansas City, Milwaukee, or Montreal/San Juan/Northern Virginia/Cassiopeia for major free agents.

No, the biggest reason that elite free agents don't return to their former teams is that no matter how logical a trade for prospects might be, the wound lingers, the scar having, in some way, been dumped, rejected, cast off, bade farewell. Face it - if Ric Ocasek ever dumped Paulina Porizkova, then to Paulina, Ric Ocasek would finally start to look like ... Ric Ocasek.

And yet, the scenario is potentially so rich for everyone. Beltre gets to experience a pennant race in another city, then returns a richer man to a richer (in talent) Dodger team, with the chance to build a huge career in a great city.

If an igloo somewhere is hiding a cold reality that says that Beltre won't be taking the Dodgers to the playoffs in 2004, it's a shame that the team and Beltre will probably make the worst of it for 2005 and beyond.

For now, I still want to buy my used cars from Beltre.

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