The Angels, more than ever, look like the front-runners to sign free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.
The A’s, who made Beltre multiple offers, pulled out of the talks this week to pursue other players, according to major-league sources.
The Rangers, while maintaining interest in Beltre, remain uncomfortable with both the price and fit, sources said.
Beltre’s agent, Scott Boras, is seeking at least a five-year, $85 million contract, according to rival executives. To make room for Beltre, the Rangers would need to trade third baseman Michael Young or move him to designated hitter, neither of which is likely.
Thus, the path for the Angels seems relatively clear.
Beltre, 31, owns a home in the Los Angeles area. The Angels reportedly pulled their initial offer to him, believed to be in the range of five years, $70 million. The team has not withdrawn from the bidding, sources said. Still, no deal is in place.
Free-agent negotiations are fluid, and Boras often finds surprising landing spots for his players. While the three AL West powers have been the teams most often linked to Beltre, several other clubs could stand to upgrade at third.
The Orioles could sign Beltre and move Mark Reynolds to first. The Blue Jays could sign Beltre and keep Jose Bautista in right field. The Mariners, Marlins, Dodgers and even the defending World Series champion Giants are all somewhat unsettled at third.
Most of those teams, however, seem reluctant to make a major push for Beltre, whom they deem as either too expensive or unattainable.
The A’s showed no such reluctance, making Beltre a reported five-year, $64 million offer early in free agency. The team never confirmed or denied its bid, but remained in the mix for Beltre, improving its offer at least once, sources said.
This week, finally, the A’s said, “Enough.”
Beltre rejected their three-year, $24 million offer last offseason to accept a one-year, $10 million deal with the Red Sox. The A’s offered a more compelling case this time — a young pitching staff that led the AL in ERA last season, plus the additions of outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham and designated hitter Hideki Matsui. But Beltre, like many free agents, again seemed reluctant to play in the Oakland Coliseum, where the A’s last season had the second-lowest home attendance in the majors.
The A’s continued pursuit of Beltre, even after their initial offseason additions, indicated that they maintain significant payroll flexibility. The team now intends to redirect some of those resources to other players.
Right-hander Chad Qualls and lefty Hideki Okajima are among the free-agent relievers the A’s are targeting, sources said. The club also might pursue another hitter, possibly an infielder who could share time with Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base.
The Rangers’ position on Beltre has not changed: They want him. They seemingly could fit him into their budget after losing free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee. They just cannot figure out how to squeeze Beltre onto their roster.
The team explored trades for Young at the winter meetings, but those discussions are now dormant, sources said. The team also has not approached Young about becoming a designated hitter to accommodate Beltre.
Rather than sign Beltre for at least $15 million per season and make Young a $16 million DH for the next three years, Texas might simply keep Young at third and sign a designated hitter such as Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year deal in the $8 million range.
Still, the Rangers have not ruled out Beltre.
“Well, when you have a player of his caliber out there, you have to have an interest if it’s realistic within what your budget is and how he would fit into your ballclub and how you would hit him in the lineup and stuff of that nature,” team president Nolan Ryan told Dallas radio station SportsRadio 1310 The Ticket this week.
“So, obviously with our ballclub, it wouldn’t be nearly as clear-cut as somebody else, say whether it be the Angels and the rumor is that Oakland has made him an offer. I would say if you looked at the free agent market right now, he’s probably the premier free agent that’s still unsigned.”
But the Angels, if they perceive Beltre’s market to be limited, might prefer to wait out Boras — assuming that owner Arte Moreno is even willing to increase his payroll to the $150 million range for Beltre.
The relationship between Moreno and Boras turned test two years ago during the bidding for free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira. Moreno also was critical recently of free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford’s new, seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox, which was negotiated by Greg Genske and Brian Peters of Legacy Sports.