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Beltre Could Wait for Only So Long

If signing him was the Dodgers' top priority, third baseman says they didn't exactly show it.

December 19, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Adrian Beltre woke up Saturday feeling blue. Just not Dodger blue. And that was the source of his melancholy mood.

He's a Seattle Mariner now. He realizes the Mariners are a fine organization spending oodles of money to try to climb out of the American League West cellar. He understands Seattle is a fine town, unless the persistent rain eventually makes him too, well, blue.

But Beltre believes the Dodgers nudged him out the door after seven seasons of service, including a 2004 performance that should have earned him employee-of-the-year honors in a runaway. He believes the front office was indifferent, indecisive and, perhaps, incapable of paying the going rate for a 25-year-old third baseman who batted .334 with 48 home runs and 121 runs batted in.

"This wasn't easy for me," he said. "I never thought about leaving the Dodgers. They said to my face they would try to do what it took to keep me in L.A. I believed what they said."

Dodger owner Frank McCourt and General Manager Paul DePodesta met with him after the season and he says they informed him that re-signing him was their top priority. Contact thereafter was sporadic.

Beltre's agent, Scott Boras, sat down with DePodesta at the general manager meetings in November and at the winter meetings last week. DePodesta left the latter meeting optimistic that an agreement could be reached.

Boras remained in frequent telephone contact with DePodesta, but no offer was forthcoming from the team that signed Beltre at 15, vaulted him to the major leagues at 19 and persevered as he slowly developed into a star.

Beltre figured he could show some patience too.

"I was waiting for their offer and couldn't call other teams back," he said. "I was in my house, waiting on the Dodgers forever."

Figures from other teams began to roll in, including $90 million over seven years from the Detroit Tigers, according to an industry source. An American League team on the East Coast gave Beltre 24 hours to accept an offer. The deadline passed and the Dodgers remained silent.

The Mariner cash remained on the table, but for how long? They needed an answer because they were also pursuing free-agent slugger Carlos Delgado.

Meanwhile, the three-team blockbuster trade that would free up significantly more Dodger payroll by unloading right fielder Shawn Green and pitchers Brad Penny, Kazuhisa Ishii and Yhency Brazoban was in the works.

Clearly, the Dodgers could have increased their offer to Beltre had the trade been finalized. But DePodesta disputed the notion that McCourt made re-signing Beltre contingent on the trade.

"This was me, it was my decision to make," he said. "This wasn't Frank telling me what to do."

When the Dodgers did make Beltre an offer Tuesday night after DePodesta and McCourt returned from a dinner meeting with free-agent pitcher Matt Clement, it was far too little and borderline too late.

The Dodgers offered slightly less than $60 million over six years, backloaded so only $8 million would be paid next season, according to sources close to the negotiation. Beltre signed for $64 million over five years, frontloaded to include $17 million next season.

The average annual value was a difference of more than $3 million a year. Furthermore, Beltre was not particularly interested in a six-year deal because he wants to again explore free agency after the 2009 season when he expects to be in his prime at 30.

"Scott was upfront with me that this was moving quickly with another club," DePodesta said. "We had to do our best. Which is what we did.

"We put out an offer to Adrian before [the proposed trade] heated up. Unfortunately we don't operate with perfect information. We have to put it out there."

Beltre turned it down and signed with Seattle. Yet he was stung by the impression that he simply chased dollars.

"That wasn't the case," he said. "It kind of hurt me. I had offers for more money on the table.

"If the Dodgers had told me money was tight this year, I could have worked that out. But they never told me anything and they left me out in the cold. The fact is, I was waiting and waiting for an offer that never came."

Why were the Dodger reluctant to outbid the Mariners? Suspicions about payroll restrictions imposed by McCourt will be put to rest only if DePodesta spends the savings on other players.

There is also the notion that Beltre's spectacular production last season was a fluke. In his first six seasons, he batted only .262 with 99 home runs.

He says time will tell.

"I believe I'm going to continue to be the kind of player I was last year," he said. "I can't put up those numbers every year, but the consistency will be there. I go into the batter's box with a plan now. I used to just see the ball and swing at it."

Dodger fans watched him develop into one of the most feared hitters in baseball and showered him with cheers last season as he led the team to the playoffs.

"It's sad because I really love the fans here," he said. "I grew up in this organization and learned a lot.

"Last year was a special year for me. I will never forget that. I wish everyone the best."

So does DePodesta, who made a business decision he believes is in the best interest of the Dodgers.

"There is no villain," he said. "I have nothing against Adrian or the choice he made. And I have nothing against Scott.

"These are not easy decisions. It's not easy on the players despite the dollars being thrown around. And it's not easy on fans because we become emotionally tied to players. We want to keep them in our uniforms."

Dodger blue is no longer for Beltre. And he realizes, too, that his disappointment is temporary.

"I was happy in L.A. and I want to be happy in Seattle," he said. "This will all work out for the best. It's the way it has to be."

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