Editor's note: This is the fourth installment in our spring training preview series.
Today's position: Third base
When the Texas Rangers weren't able to sign Cliff Lee after the 2010 season, they decided to spend some of that money on shoring up the left side of the infield and adding a big bat to the lineup. How does that five-year, $80 million investment with a vesting option for a sixth year for Adrian Beltre look so far?
Beltre has exceeded expectations -- and they were high when he signed. He hit .296 in 2011 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs and played in just 124 games. Think if he hadn't missed five weeks because of a hamstring strain. Last season, Beltre was even better. He batted .321 with 36 homers and 102 RBIs in 156 games. He had a WAR of 6.5, second only to Miguel Cabrera (7.1) among AL third baseman.
Beltre batted cleanup in the order, offering protection for Josh Hamilton. He played with pain at times and showed his toughness. He was an important leader in the clubhouse. And, once again, he played phenomenal defense at third base. Beltre won his second consecutive Gold Glove Award. He had 13 defensive runs saved (third among AL third baseman).
Beltre, who turns 34 in April, gives the Rangers a steady, consistent option at third base. It means prospect Mike Olt is busy trying to learn other positions so that he can get on the field (and it allows the club to discuss Olt in trade talks because Beltre is the long-term option).
While the Rangers have questions they need to answer at spring training, third base isn't one of them. Beltre's mission for 2013 is to stay healthy and continue to play the way he has the last three years. Few players work harder, something that's always fun to watch at spring training as he takes a ton of grounders at third base to keep his skills up.
Beltre, along with Elvis Andrus, gives the Rangers to top left side of the infield in the big leagues. And in terms of the total package, I don't think there's a better third baseman in the league. Add in that Olt is one of the top prospects in the organization and third base is a position of true strength for the Rangers.