Three years later, Richie or Beltre the better signing?-2



I don’t know how Bill Bavasi made it through the first three years of the Adrian Beltre/Richie Sexson contracts without breaking down at a press conference Denny Green-style, yelling, “They are who we thought they were!!!”

Like a slick used car salesman, he sold the Mariner faithful on Beltre and Sexson in 2005, billing them as the biggest free agent signings in the history of Seattle baseball. They were, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Keep in mind, I said “used” car salesman, and for what we laid down — five years and $64 million for Beltre, four years and $50 million for Sexson — we effectively got taken for a ride

To continue the used car analogy, it was like getting a ’96 Corolla that had flipped over three times on the interstate and been rebuilt (Sexson) and a flashy 2000 Corvette with a bad engine (Beltre).

I’ll be the first to admit, though, that I, too, drank the Bill Bavasi Kool-Aid and happily went along with his plan for rebuilding the team.

Now that we’re in the Bavasi Rebuilding Plan: Year 4, however, I’ve obviously had to reevaluate things.

Sexson basically did what we overpaid him to do: be an imitation of Joaquin Phoenix’s character from “Signs,” who hits the occasional home run and strikes out 80 percent of the time. (Almost literally — his batting average last year was .205.)

Beltre is a bit more debatable, depending on what camp you’re in. If you were one of the Kool-Aid drinkers who believed Beltre would be a mirror image of his 2004 self — .334/48/121 and a second-place finish in National League MVP voting — you’re probably pretty disappointed. But if you did your homework and realized that his ’04 season came in a contract year, you probably saw the last three seasons coming from a mile away.

The bottom line is this: neither player did what we needed them to do (help turn the team around) and both got overpaid for what they’ve put out.

But like a used car you paid too much for, it does little good to dwell on the bad. Your car may have a bum transmission and get horrible mileage, but it also may look nice or have a decent stereo system.

True, Beltre hasn’t lived up to the hype of being a .300/35/120 kind of guy, but his career stats never really indicated that in the first place. Prior to his ’04 campaign, his batting average had hovered in the .200s and his home run totals had been in the low 20s at best.

Since signing with the M’s, Beltre has averaged about .316/23/91. While his homer totals haven’t done much — and haven’t been anywhere near what they were in ’04 — his batting average and RBI totals are way up, when compared with his career 162-game average. He started looking like Edgar Martinez 2007 last year, smacking a career-high 41 doubles.

If that wasn’t enough, he’s also locked down the hot corner like no other player in Mariners history. Just last week, he became the first Mariner third baseman ever to bring home a Rawlings Gold Glove award.

Sexson on the other hand has, uh … admitted he has a problem? The lanky sometimes-slugger recently said he “understands” fans’ frustrations with his hitting woes.

Unfortunately, he’s still got 11 steps to go and the M’s are more than a week into the 2008 season.

Besides that, he’s averaged about .244/ 31/97 since signing with the team — a decrease in stats in every category (again weighed against his 162-game average).

He’s not offering a whole lot at first base, either. Besides being tall, which provides the infield with the small luxury of being able to throw to a larger area, he doesn’t do much. Though he doesn’t commit many errors, that’s little comfort, given the fact that virtually anyone can man first base. Let’s keep in mind this is the same position once held by some of the least-physically fit players in baseball history (Mo Vaughn, John Kruk, etc.). The Mariners even trotted out Edgar Martinez a few times, in the twilight of his career no less, to man the bag.

Take Sexson if you want, but when it comes down to right here, right now, Beltre’s doing more work for the M’s.

Sexson’s already been knocked down in the lineup and is well on his way to being the most openly booed Mariner by hometown fans since Bobby Ayala.

Paul Balcerak is a staff writer for the CK Reporter.