Beltre deal is a steal for Red Sox

The Red Sox are stealing Adrian Beltre.

Doesn’t matter if Beltre’s contract ends up as

one year, $10 million, two years, $14 million or even two years,

$20 million.

Free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins signed a four-year,

$36 million deal with the Mariners early in the

off-season.

Beltre, widely considered the best third baseman on the

market, is guaranteed a fraction of that — $14 million.

His contract, sources say, will be for one year and $9

million, with a $5 million player option for 2011 or $1 million

buyout. The option will increase to $10 million only if Beltre

makes 640 plate appearances, according to one source. The deal will

become official once Beltre passes his physical.

So much for the idea that Beltre’s superior defense

would compensate for his .325 career on-base percentage in the open

market.

So much for the initial asking price of Beltre’s agent,

Scott Boras: Four years, $40 million, according to rival

executives.

The Phillies, one source said, made “a very strong

offer” to Beltre — three years, $24 million, according to

another source — before signing free agent Placido Polanco to a

three-year, $18 million contract.

Beltre, another source said, also had a more recent,

three-year, $24 million offer, believed to be from the A’s.

But Boras and Beltre chose the shorter deal from the Red Sox,

preferring Beltre to go back on the market next winter at age 31.

The last contract Boras negotiated for Beltre was a whopper

— five years, $64 million with the Mariners. Beltre, because he

already was set financially, could afford to take a greater risk.

But Boras’ strategy will backfire if Beltre is unable to land

a big contract next off-season.

Figgins’ agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, completed five

free-agent deals before Jan. 1 — Figgins, Polanco, right-hander

Jason Marquis, reliever Fernando Rodney and outfielder Marlon Byrd.

None of the deals was for below market value. Marquis, a

second-tier starting pitcher, received a higher guarantee than

Beltre on a two-year deal.

Beltre earned $12 million last season. Boras will take

another hit if he fails to secure a decent contract for free-agent

outfielder Johnny Damon. And he isn’t going to get the Mark

Teixeira dollars that he wanted for Matt Holliday.

True, Beltre’s value was depressed by his injuries and

low percentage stats last season.

True, he can re-enter the market in a much stronger position

if he rebounds with the Red Sox.

Ideally, he will follow a similar path to right-hander Kyle

Lohse, a Boras client who turned a one-year, $4.25 million,

free-agent contract in 2008 into a four-year, $41 million extension

the following year.

Beltre averaged 25 homers and a .793 OPS for the Mariners

from 2006 to ’08 despite playing at Safeco Field, an

extremely difficult park for right-handed hitters. As a

complementary piece in a revamped Boston lineup, he

should thrive at Fenway Park.

Still, the Red Sox could not have done much better.

Even low-revenue teams are comfortable with certain

short-term, high-dollar contracts. High-revenue teams such as the

Sox relish such agreements, the better for them to remain flexible

long-term.

The addition of Beltre would leave the Red Sox no room to

trade for Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez this summer, unless

one of their corner infielders or designated hitter David Ortiz was

injured.

But the Sox still could deal for Gonzalez if he were

available at the end of the season or sign him as a free agent if

he hits the market in the fall of ’11. They also could move

onto other players in the first base/third base/DH category;

Ortiz’s contract expires after this season, creating even

more flexibility.

Oh, and there’s more.

The only risk for the Red Sox in awarding Beltre his player

option is that he will suffer a major injury or play extremely

poorly this season. Even then, the cost to the Sox

“only” would be $5 million, a relatively small sum for

a team that routinely pays players to go away.

If Beltre has a monster year and declines the option, the Sox

can re-sign him to a bigger deal. If he walks, so be it.

More significantly, the player option provides an immediate

benefit to the Sox, reducing Beltre’s salary for luxury-tax

accounting purposes.

The collective-bargaining agreement states that player

options are considered guaranteed years when calculating the tax,

assuming the buyout is less than 50 percent of the salary.

The payroll for tax purposes is calculated by determining the

average annual value of each player’s deal — in

Beltre’s case, $7 million.

If Beltre takes the player option, the Red Sox will be

charged that amount in each of the next two seasons, according to

major-league sources.

If Beltre opts out, the Red Sox will be charged $7 million

this season and $2 million in ’11 to account for his full $9

million salary — still a favorable arrangement.

Getting Beltre for $7 million in luxury-tax dollars was

critical for the Red Sox. The team also is working on other deals

to keep them near the $170 million tax threshold, sources say.

In the meantime,, the Sox still must resolve one other issue

— their incumbent third baseman, Mike Lowell, is coming off

thumb surgery and set to earn $12 million next season.

The Sox eventually will purge Lowell, probably in a deal

similar to the one they had arranged with the Rangers, in which

they agreed to pay three-quarters of Lowell’s salary.

Whatever move the Sox make, they will be better defensively

at third base next season and perhaps as good offensively, though

Lowell has produced an impressive .829 OPS in his four seasons in

Boston.

Granted, the Sox could end up paying nearly $20 million or

more in 2010 for Beltre and Lowell as well as $14 million for their

past and present shortstops, Julio Lugo and Marco Scutaro.

High-revenue teams win some and lose some.

The Sox will win with the Beltre deal.