One of the things I found baffling this past offseason was the number of people who were picking the Mariners to finish ahead of the Rangers in 2005. The Rangers finished almost 30 games ahead of the M's last season, and even though some regression from the Rangers was to be expected, I couldn't see how the M's improved enough to even be a .500 team this year.
The biggest M's move of the offseason -- one that a lot of folks celebrated as being the best free agent acquisition of the offseason -- was signing Adrian Beltre to a 5 year $64 million contract.
At the time, I thought that the Beltre contract was a huge roll of the dice, a much bigger risk than I would want to take. Beltre had very solid seasons in 1999 and 2000 at age 21 and 22, and was identified as a future star before complications from an emergency appendectomy sidelined him for the first part of the 2001 season. The next few seasons he struggled, putting up EQAs in the .250s from 2001 through 2003, before exploding last season with 48 homers and a .333 EQA. This, many believed, was the Beltre everyone had been waiting for.
There were some areas of concern, though, underlying Beltre's great 2004 performance. He had only 44 unintentional walks on the season, a very low rate which requires a high batting average to maintain a quality OBP. Beltre hit .334 last season, over sixty points higher than his career average, and his homer total was twice his previous best. Beltre had an MVP-caliber season in 2004, but there was a fair amount to suggest that that season may have simply been a performance spike, rather than the establishing of a new, sustainable level of performance.
So far this year, Beltre has been a major disappointment, posting a .221/.248/.310 line and a .201 EQA. Pitchers are taking advantage of his lack of plate discipline, as he has only 3 walks on the season, and he's homered only twice.
Obviously, Beltre is going to improve...but the early returns suggest that the Beltre that the M's are paying $13 million a year for over the next five years may be closer to the disappointing Beltre of 2001-2003 than the MVP candidate of 2004. And without the stud Beltre, Seattle is going to have a hard time getting out of the A.L. West cellar anytime soon.