Beltre heads free-agent class at third

Beltre heads free-agent class at third

During the winter of 2004, the Mariners, having slipped to fourth place in the American League West, signed free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre to a deal worth $64 million over five seasons.

A year after letting Chone Figgins sign with the Mariners, could the Angels, who then fell to -- gasp! -- an unfamiliar third-place finish in the AL West, make a run at luring Beltre back to the West Coast this winter?

To be sure, Beltre, coming off a monster season with the Red Sox, figures to have plenty of suitors, as he's far and away the top free agent available at the hot corner and one of the top available players at any position. Beltre and agent Scott Boras figure to move on from Boston.

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The third-base class could be small, depending on whether three players -- Jose Lopez (Mariners), Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (A's) -- are non-tendered.

Both Beltre and Miguel Tejada, who played the first half of the season at third base with the Orioles, are Type A free agents, which means that any team that wishes to sign either player will have to forfeit a first-round Draft pick if that player's former team offers the player arbitration.

One potential free-agent third baseman is already off the market, as the Tigers signed Brandon Inge last month to a two-year deal with a club option for 2013. The Tigers might also take another third-base option out of play, as they are conducting negotiations on a multiyear deal with Jhonny Peralta, who played shortstop after coming to the Tigers but was a third baseman for the Indians, even though they declined their $7.25 million option for 2011.

Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs might have been an interesting and viable option, but he's remaining in Chicago after exercising a $14.6 million player option for 2011.

Looking to buy: The Orioles are looking to add a power bat, though the need to add a third baseman might be temporary, pending rookie Josh Bell's return. The Red Sox could find Beltre's replacement through free agency or trade, or they could move Kevin Youkilis to third. Seattle will need a third baseman if they non-tender Lopez. The Angels' third basemen hit a combined .233 with eight home runs and a .266 on-base percentage. Could they go after Beltre? The Indians also need help at third base, though they might spend elsewhere. Finally, the Dodgers would like to add a big bat, possibly at third base, which would allow them to move Casey Blake to a utility role.

Top dog: In a word: Beltre. In his first and possibly only year with the Red Sox, Beltre had 79 extra-base hits, knocked in 102 runs (his most since his monster season with the Dodgers in 2004, when he hit .334 and racked up 121 RBIs on 200 hits, 48 of them homers) and had a .365 on-base percentage. On top of all of that, Beltre also plays Gold Glove-worthy defense. Beltre's 7.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was second in the American League to Texas' Josh Hamilton's 8.0.

Best of the rest: Jorge Cantu, who struggled after a trade to the Rangers, might have to settle for a one-year contract, given the fact that he's not a strong defender. Juan Uribe of the Giants could be a viable option, especially since he can play third base, second base and shortstop. The Orioles figure to make a run at re-signing Ty Wigginton to play third, particularly if Bell isn't ready to handle the job just yet. The versatile Bill Hall hit 18 home runs while playing all over the infield for the Red Sox.

Worth a shot?: Melvin Mora, at 39, had a revival season, hitting .285 with 45 RBIs with the Rockies. Joe Crede is a question mark after missing the entire 2010 season, due to injuries. Pedro Feliz disappointed in St. Louis and in Houston. Nick Punto figures to be an affordable option for someone.

Potential 2012 class: Slim pickings here, folks. Ramirez of the Cubs figures to be available, especially with a $16 million club option for 2012 and a $2 million buyout. The other options at the hot corner are not nearly as inspiring. Wilson Betemit could end up an affordable option, especially if he has another decent year like he did in 2010 with the Royals.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.