The Rangers decide to keep Adrian Beltre on board for two more seasons; diagnosing Matt Harvey’s struggles; Felix Hernandez ties a historic Mariners mark.
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The Rangers announced a two-year contract extension with third baseman Adrian Beltre Saturday afternoon. Beltre, who is earning $18 million in this, the lone option year of the contract he signed with Texas in January 2011, will maintain that salary in each of the next two season for a total of $36 million. The extension covers his age-38 and -39 seasons.
Extending Beltre is an interesting decision for the Rangers given that they have highly regarded infield prospects Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar champing at the bit in Triple A. Gallo, a 22-year-old third baseman who was the rated the sixth-best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America in February, has monstrous power and appeared in 36 games for Texas last year. Profar, a 23-year-old shortstop who was the consensus top prospect in baseball prior to the 2013 season, is finally back in action after losing most of the last two seasons to a teres major tear behind his right shoulder. However, Profar is blocked at shortstop by Elvis Andrus, who is signed through 2022 with a vesting option for 2023, and at second base by Rougned Odor, who won’t hit free agency until after the 2020 season. Both are now blocked at third base for the next two seasons by Beltre. The Rangers have used both in the outfield in the major leagues, but neither has played off his primary position in Triple A thus far this season.
At worst, those two should provide the Rangers with depth should Beltre finally start to show his age over the next two years. Despite turning 37 last week, Beltre has been a remarkably valuable and consistent player since joining the Rangers in 2011. Over the last five seasons, he has hit .309/.358/.514 (133 OPS+), while averaging 146 games, 27 home runs, 92 RBIs and 6.3 wins above replacement (baseball-reference.com version) per season, making three All-Star teams, winning two Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers and thrice finishing in the top seven in the American League’s Most Valuable Player voting.
There have been some signs of decline. Beltre’s isolated power has decreased in each of his last four seasons, from a high of .265 in 2011 to .166 last year. However, his walk rate has headed in the other direction, his fielding has remained elite, and though he has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last two years, he hasn’t played in fewer than 143 games in any of the last four campaigns. Still, per bWAR, Beltre has been worth more than five wins above replacement in each of the last six years (including his tremendous 2010 season with Boston). That level of contribution leaves room for Beltre to decline and still be worth keeping around for two more seasons.
Beyond his actual value on the field, Beltre is beloved by the Rangers’ fans and players alike, a reliable source of amusement, and finished Saturday’s game just 219 hits shy of 3,000, making him likely to reach that milestone in 2017 and to enter the Hall of Fame with a Rangers’ cap on his plaque sometime in the next decade. Given that the Rangers won their division last year and are expected to contend again this year (they beat the Orioles, 8–4, Saturday night, breaking a first-place tie with the Angels, who lost their second straight game to the Twins), it’s hard to fault them for wanting to keep a player who brings all of the above to the table around for a couple more years.
As for Gallo and Profar, with Nomar Mazara apparently already capable of filling the outfield corner not occupied by Shin-Soo Choo, who is signed through 2020, their best hope to remain in the organization would appear to be for Gallo to shift to first base, where Mitch Moreland is in his walk year, and for Profar to focus on becoming a super utility player with the ability to play centerfield. Both seem likely to draw heavy trade interest moving forward.
Diagnosing Matt Harvey
Mets ace Matt Harvey retired the first 13 Cleveland batters he faced Saturday afternoon, but walked the 14th and then gave up five runs to the next 12 men he faced before being pulled from the game trailing 5–1 with two outs in the sixth and, ultimately, taking the loss in the Mets’ 7–5 defeat. Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen thinks he knows the reason for Harvey’s sudden collapse. Warthen told the media after the game that when Harvey has pitched out of the stretch with men on base this season, he has been collapsing his back leg, an issue that they attempted to address prior to Saturday’s start with little apparent success.
Harvey’s splits this season suggest Warthen is on to something. With the bases empty, Harvey has held his opponents to a .200/.263/.200 line in 38 plate appearances this season and has yet to allow an extra-base hit with the bags empty. With men on, however, Harvey’s opponents are hitting .464/.500/.643 in 35 PA. Harvey allowed just two men to reach base with the bases empty on Saturday, those coming via a walk and an infield single. Once those men got on, however, Cleveland had its way with him, going 5 for 8 with a pair of doubles, two more walks and a pair of stolen bases, with Harvey adding a wild pitch for good measure. Harvey, who is now 0–3 with a 5.71 ERA on the season, is due to take his next turn against the Braves in Atlanta on Friday.
The Lion in Autumn?
Felix Hernandez wasn’t particularly sharp against the other New York team on Saturday afternoon, walking six and using up 106 pitches in just five innings of work. However, he still managed to hold the Yankees to one run on their own turf, stranding 10 of the 11 runners he allowed. He also managed just four strikeouts in those five frames, but the fourth was the 2,162nd of his career, tying him with Randy Johnson for the most in Mariners’ history. That’s a reminder of just how good Hernandez has been, but also for how long. Hernandez turned 30 last week, is in his 12th major league season (Johnson spent just 10 years with the Mariners), and is just 44 innings shy of Sandy Koufax’s career total.
There’s a sense coming into this season that Hernandez, who endured two of the worst starts of his career last year, is no longer an ace in his prime. Despite finishing in the top four in the Cy Young voting four times from 2009 to 2014, winning the award in 2010, he didn’t factor into SI’s Cy Young picks last month. Thus far this season, his velocity has been down, with his average sinker dipping below 91 miles per hour, and his walks have been way up, with Hernandez having now walked 13 men in 18 innings, or 6.5 per nine. Then again, his groundball rate is way up, and those groundballs, as much as his well-timed strikeouts, were key to his ability to wriggle out of trouble on Saturday.