I was 21 when the Texas Rangers signed Adrian Beltre. The deal was for six years and $96 million, which was both (a) a shitload of money and (b) a huge bargain. The year was 2011, to be precise, back when I did data entry and accounts receivable for the auto auction company I worked at. I didn’t make very much, probably around $400 a week, but it came at a time when my only “major” expense was splitting a relatively cheap one bedroom apartment with my best friend. Unironically, the days when I had no money were also the days my best friend and I were at the casino all the fucking time.
The Rangers went to the World Series that year (2011), their second straight appearance in the Fall Classic. It was a magical postseason run to be sure, and Adrian Beltre did his part, batting .264/.302/.542 (120 wRC+) with 5 homers and 14 runs driven in. Texas opened by beating the Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games in the Division Series, then defeated the Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer-led Detroit Tigers in 6 in the ALCS.
In the end, the Rangers lost the World Series to the Cardinals in 7 despite having multiple opportunities to close them out in Game 6. Twice the Rangers had two strikes, two outs, with a two-run lead, and twice the Cardinals came through with a miraculous game-tying hit. (The first was a David Freese triple in the bottom of the 9th, the second a Lance Berkman broken bat single to center against the unforgettable Scott Feldman in the 11th.) I know I reference it every year or two, the idea that this one stupid baseball game singlehandedly changed sports for me. I wish I could describe it as “a punch to the gut,” or some extreme sense of disappointment, but more than anything it made me numb. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that sports weren’t the same after that; it’s that they couldn’t be.
Ever the optimist, I still figured the Rangers had as good a shot as anyone of making it back, and winning the damn thing.. eventually. After making the World Series in 2010 and 2011 Texas returned the entirety of its nucleus for the 2012 season, a team I contend was the best pound-for-pound roster in the history of the franchise. They had Josh Hamilton in his prime, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Elvis Andrus, and had a strong rotation (featuring Yu Darvish in his rookie year) and lights out bullpen (featuring Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara).
Something strange happened at the end of that year, though. The Rangers possessed a 5-game lead in their division with 9 games left to play, and somehow collapsed in the final two weeks of the season. They literally led the American League West every day of the big league calendar until Game 162. In the last game of the year — a winner-take-all affair against the Oakland Athletics — Josh Hamilton infamously misplayed a flyball in center field, and the A’s won the game and division in one fell swoop. That was the first year of the Wild Card play-in game, which Texas ended up losing to the Baltimore Orioles and Joe Saunders of all fucking people. Just like that, the most talented roster in Texas Rangers history got sent home.
I mention 2011 and 2012, because that was the best, most complete iteration of the Rangers while Adrian Beltre was with the club. And I mention Adrian Beltre, in particular, because on the last game of this baseball season, 2018, he probably played the final game of his major league career. It’s still kind of an open question, but the team beat writers have been writing cryptic shit about Beltre retiring and it’s hard to imagine him coming back after hugging all his teammates on the field a couple weeks ago.
Like I said originally, at six years and $96 million Adrian Beltre was a bargain. According to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (henceforth called fWAR), between 2011 and 2016 Beltre generated +32.4 fWAR, best in the majors among all 3rd basemen. Over the last two years, he produced +2.9 and +1.2 fWAR, respectively, which partly had to do with missing a substantial amount of time due to injury and, this last year specifically, due to natural age-related decline.
The reason Beltre was a bargain is due to the theoretical price of each WAR, which has gotten progressively higher since 2011. But if we take a conservative average — let’s say $7 million per Win — that means between 2011-’16 Beltre was valued at a whopping $224 million. That’s more than double the original $96 million commitment.
Before I drone on about how Sabermetrically-friendly Beltre’s career is/was, I think the point is he was really fucking good, and awesome to watch play. I was 21 when he signed with the Rangers, and I’m 28 now. My life is obviously in a different place. The older I’ve got, the more people that have come and gone, I’ve realized just how fragile a proposition it is to be able to count on anybody. Beltre was one of those guys, to the point where I’ve just expected greatness, and taken it for granted.
As a fan of the Rangers Beltre’s presumed departure is sad, but not only for the selfish reason of wanting to see him play for my team some more. I think, more so, I’m sad that 2011 was the only legitimate chance he had of winning a World Series. In spite of wild success during the 2010’s decade, post-2011 Texas never made it past the ALDS, twice getting knocked out by the Blue Jays (in 2015 and ’16). The major disappointment of Beltre’s tenure had nothing to do with his performance, it had to do with some bad luck during the playoffs, when it mattered the most.
In a way it’s fitting that Beltre is retiring now, as he arrived to Texas at a time that was thought of as the start of a championship window that had no end in sight. Now, in 2018, the Rangers look at least a year away, probably two, from even thinking about competing again in the AL West. He came while the window was opening, and he is leaving as the final stamp on the window’s close.
I’ll always remember the World Series run of 2011. I’ll remember the home runs off one knee. I’ll remember the endearing relationship he had with Elvis Andrus, and the hijinks that came with it. I’ll remember the postseason at-bats when he could barely run to first. Adrian Beltre, the guy is a national treasure.
Thanks for the memories, my man.