Beltre prepared for uncertain market

Beltre prepared for uncertain market

SEATTLE -- The two lockers filled with Adrian Beltre's belongings the past five years were vacant on Monday morning.

The Mariners third baseman left the building late Sunday afternoon, returning to his Los Angeles-area home to wait for the World Series to end and the free agent season to begin.

"I have no idea what's going to happen," Beltre said. "It's too early to know."

The Mariners spent $64 million on Beltre, banking on him having at least one or two seasons similar to the one he had in 2004, when he batted .334, hit 48 home runs and drove in 121 runs for the Dodgers.

It never happened.

"I knew that would be hard to match," Beltre said before Sunday's regular-season finale. "Everything that year went perfect for me. It was one of those seasons when nothing went wrong. I knew it would be difficult to reach those numbers again, but I thought I would do better than I have done."

By Mariners franchise standards, he was among the best who played the hot corner position. At the end of his five-year contract, Beltre ranked first in hits (742) and extra-base hits (280) and was second in home runs (101) and RBIs (388) among franchise third basemen. He also captured two Gold Glove Awards, the only Mariners third sacker to win at least one.

"In the beginning, I wasn't happy with my performance," he said. "I think I put too much pressure on myself to live up to my contract. After that, I thought I did OK. I didn't have the numbers that maybe people expected, but I had typical seasons, until this one."

During the first four years of the deal, Beltre had a .266 batting average, hit 95 home runs and drove in 352 runs. He batted .265 with eight home runs and 44 RBIs this season.

Throughout the five seasons, he played with a lot of pain, ranging from a severely sprained left thumb, injured when he made a diving stop on defense, to a severely contused right testicle, the result of being hit with a ball while not wearing a protective cup.

Beltre said he would like to return to the Mariners, but was prepared to move on, heading into the offseason ready for just about anything.

Beltre, who is represented by Scott Boras, realizes that a substantial pay cut is possible. The economy is a lot different now than it was five years ago, and Beltre went from having a tremendous "walk" year to a horrible one.

"It will be different this year, no doubt," he said. "I didn't put up the numbers everyone expected and then I had shoulder surgery. I am 100-percent healthy right now, but there may be some questions about that. That is something I am going to find out.

"I don't know what to expect. Last year, it was a tough free agency for some players because of the economic climate. I don't know what to expect, but for me, it's not about the money anymore. I have already made a lot of money in the sport. I would like to play in the World Series and win one."

The Mariners were not able to win as often as he wanted, but when Beltre departed on Sunday, his head was held high.

"We didn't make it to the playoffs in the five years I was here," he said, "but I can honestly say I gave 100 percent every day. Whatever comes out of that, I had to be happy about. I worked hard every year. This is my job and I take my job seriously. It is work. I do my best to prepare and I don't want to have any excuse that I didn't work hard enough. I want to have my mind clear that I have done everything I could to have a good season."

Unlike last season, when he went into the offseason recovering from shoulder and thumb surgery, Beltre finally is healthy again.

"He went through a lot this year," manager Don Wakamstsu said. "Because of the injuries, we didn't see what I know he can do. But I still think he had as much effect on this club as anybody.

"You look at the time when he playing with tremendous pain in the Dodgers series [in late June]. Players saw that and learned a valuable lesson."

Long-time head athletic trainer Rick Griffin called Beltre one of the hardest workers he's been around and still finds it amazing that "A.B." could play as much as did being as hurt as he was.

"If he had been healthy all year, he would have been one heck of a player for us," Wakamatsu added. "I respect the guy. You have to drag him out of the lineup."

If Sunday's season finale was in fact Beltre's final game with the Mariners, he went out doing what he does best -- robbing opposing hitters of hits.

He went to his left to snag a hot shot hit by the Rangers' Julio Borbon for the first out of the game, and two innings later, he charged in from third, barehanded a slow grounder, turning it into the first out of the inning.

Those types of plays were routine for Beltre, and if he leaves, whoever replaces him has a tough act to follow.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.