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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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September 17, 2008 9:48 AM

Benefit to Beltre playing

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Been sititng around wondering why Adrian Beltre kept playing out a meaningless season and putting off the surgery he badly needs on his thumb area. I suppose part of it is to be admired, given that he wants to finish what he started. And that his team already looked horrible with him in the lineup and just might lose every game it plays without his bat from here on in.

Or, maybe Beltre is finally seeing some more of his line drives drop in for hits and wants to boost his numbers to more respectable totals while luck is on his side.

Probably a combination of those things. And yes, he stopped playing as of Sunday and will be having that surgery shortly.

But there has been a benefit to the Mariners, besides his bat in meaningless games, that has made his going out there something other than symbolic.

Beltre is a year away from free agency. We still don't know whether he's going to be here all of next year, but if he is, the team would stand to gain some compensation for him if he leaves as a free agent. If Beltre is classified as a Type A free-agent, the Mariners would get the signing team's first round draft pick plus a sandwich pick after the first round is over and before the second round begins.

That's pretty good stuff. It's what the Mariners will be getting when Raul Ibanez leaves after this season, which he very likely will. Ibanez is a Type A free agent.

So, what is Beltre? As of right now, he's right on the cusp between being a Type A and Type B free-agent. We mean, he's literally straddling the line. If he's a Type B free-agent, there is only a sandwich pick awarded. No first rounder.

The Elias Sports Bureau determines who is Type A and Type B based on a running tally of the last two years worth of stats. It's a highly secretive formula, the foundation of which was agreed to back in 1981 during negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement. And here's the catch: the stats it takes into account have almost as much to do with playing time as they do offensive and defensive performance. And in Beltre's case, being on the cusp as he is, playing these extra games just might make the difference as to whether he is classified as Type A or B.

I won't pretend to be an expert on this. But this Tigers blogger, Eddie Bajek of Detroit Tigers Thoughts, has done some unprecedented work in this area and just recently published his findings.

Bajek explains right here how the Elias Rankings work. He later added this little tidbit. Finally, he crunched all the numbers, in excruciating detail, to come up with his totals on how the rankings would play out for this year.

Here they are, based on Sept. 16 updates. As you can see, players are grouped according to their position. Beltre is in a group with all second basemen, third basemen and shortstops. The top 20 percent of players in this grouping get classified as Type A free-agents. Beltre is sitting right there as the final Type A guy on the list, sandwiched between Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen.

As I said, this is not meant to determine the "best'' infielder.

There are seven categories that come into play in Beltre's group. They are: plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, RBI, fielding percentage and total chances.

While five of those categories are purely production related, there are two of them -- plate appearances and total chances -- that are all about keeping a live, breathing body in there. There are points being racked up by Beltre in these two categories merely by heading out on the field instead of into an operating room.

Please get this straight. I am not saying the Mariners, or Beltre, are intentionally doing this to boost their chances of getting Type A compensation for Beltre after the 2009 season. Only that this could be a side benefit of his staying in there.

Obviously, a whole lot of other stuff has to happen first.

Remember, the points are calculated on a two-year scale. The numbers Beltre is putting up now will only count for half his total when next year's rankings come out. This total is based on 2007 and 2008. But, if you're the Mariners, and you reasonably expect Beltre to put up similar totals next year, then these current rankings are a good indication that it's going to be close. Beltre had 639 plate appearances last season and is now at 612 for this year. You can assume he'll have over 600 next year if healthy. But had he decided to call it a season back on Aug. 31, when September callups were announced, he'd have 43 fewer plate appearances this year. And maybe that, combined with fewer total chances -- since you can't have those from an operating table -- knocks a couple of points off his total, pushing him into Type B range. Remember, unless Beltre has a career year next year, or falls off badly, relative to others in his positional group, he could wind up scoring much the same for his combined 2008-2009 as he has for 2007-2008.

And that would mean, these extra weeks of playing time could make a difference in keeping him in that Type A group by ever so slim a margin when the 2008 and 2009 scores are combined.

Obviously, If Beltre gets traded this winter, then the whole compensation thing is moot. Same if he gets traded next summer, though at least then -- if Beltre looks like he'll be a Type A free-agent -- it would give the team some leverage in trade talks. Much like this summer with Ibanez, when the M's, figuring he'd be Type A, demanded the equivalent of those two high draft picks from teams in any trade proposal. Now, Ibanez was a more clear cut case, ranked very high up in the Type A standings. Beltre being on the cusp might reduce the M's ability to use the two high picks as a starting point in negotiations. Simply because they likely still won't know with absolute certainly by next July whether he'll be Type A or B.

But still, I thought it was an interesting byproduct to come out of this whole Elias Rankings thing. You should read what Bajek wrote because it is important stuff. It's shocking to see the kind of stats being used. The system appears to need upgrading. But this is what the players and owners agreed to. And it has an important bearing on the type of compensation teams will receive. Some great work was done on this by blogger Bajek. That cannot be overstated.

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