ARLINGTON -- When he first became a free agent, Adrian Beltre was asked by his representative, Scott Boras, what teams he would be interested in signing with this winter. The Rangers were at the top of Beltre's list. "The Rangers were one of the teams I wanted to play for because they are committed to winning," Beltre said.
Beltre's wish was granted. He has agreed to a six-year, $96 million contract with the Rangers to be their starting third baseman and cleanup hitter. He will replace Michael Young, the Rangers' six-time All-Star and unofficial team captain, who has agreed to become the primary designated hitter and "super utility" infielder. Beltre spoke with Young by phone before Wednesday's news conference. Beltre also made it clear he recognized the sacrifice that Young was making to allow the Rangers to sign him. "It means a lot, knowing Michael the way I do," Beltre said. "I have huge respect for him. He's one of the good guys in the game. It means a lot to play some place where they put team first." Young helped the Rangers reach the World Series last year, where they lost to the Giants in five games. The Rangers believe Beltre can help them reach their ultimate goal because he is a threat at the plate and also recognized as one of the premier defensive players in the game. Defensively, the Rangers are expecting to have the best left side of the infield in the game, with Beltre at third and Elvis Andrus at shortstop. "Since November, when this organization got a taste of success, everything we've been doing is to try and get back there and achieve our ultimate goal," general manager Jon Daniels said. "This signing is very much in line with our goal of being team first, organization first and winning first. "What we've been trying to accomplish is to put together a team that is balanced. We felt we were a good defensive team and we've added one of the elite defensive players out there. We've also added an impact bat to a very good lineup. We're very excited about it." With the addition of Beltre, the Rangers are no longer trying to re-sign free-agent designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, who hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBIs for them this past season. The Rangers informed his agent of their intentions earlier this week, as their discussions with Boras intensified. Beltre will replace Guerrero as the Rangers' cleanup hitter, manager Ron Washington said. Young will bat second, Josh Hamilton will bat third, and Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler will hit behind Beltre in the order. Beltre, who made his Major League debut in 1999 at the age of 19, led the National League in home runs with 48 in 2004. But that's the only time in his career that he has hit more than 28 home runs -- and he has driven in more than 90 runs in a season just three times in 12 years. Washington still thinks Beltre is the right person for the job. "I'm putting him there for the same reason that I put Milton Bradley there. ... He can handle the offspeed stuff," Washington said. "With Hamilton and Cruz, Michael Young and Kinsler, I'm not looking for Adrian to drive in 130 runs. He can put up 90 RBIs -- and with those other guys around him, that will be enough." The Rangers are just as interested in what Beltre can do defensively for a pitching staff that had the third-highest percentage of ground balls given up in the American League this past season. "He will have a tremendous impact," Washington said. "I think it will change the way hitters think about things, knowing he's sitting down there. They all know his reputation. His reputation is being one of the best defensive players in the game." Beltre won Gold Gloves for his defense with the Mariners in '07 and '08. Last season, he tied Young for the most errors by an American League third baseman, but ranked second in total chances, assists, double plays and total chances per nine innings. "Defense means a lot to me because I know how important it is for our pitchers," Beltre said. "That allows them to work on their control and make pitches, be not afraid to make contact. I like playing defense and I'm proud of my defense." Beltre, 31, is a 12-year veteran who spent one season with the Red Sox in 2010 and batted .321 with 28 home runs and 102 RBIs. He led the league with 49 doubles and finished with a .365 on-base percentage and a .553 slugging percentage, while being named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career. He spent the previous five seasons with the Mariners. During that time, Beltre batted .266 with a .317 on-base percentage and a .442 slugging percentage, while averaging 34 doubles, 20 home runs, 74 runs scored and 79 RBIs per season. Beltre had an injured left shoulder that required surgery in 2009, and ended up hitting .265 with eight home runs and 44 RBIs in just 111 games and 449 at-bats. After that final year in Seattle, he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Red Sox for '10, where he put up the big season that led to his multiyear contract with the Rangers. Beltre's contract is the second largest given out by the Rangers, exceeded only by the 10-year, $252 million contract for Alex Rodriguez in 2000. The club will give up its first-round pick (26th overall) to the Red Sox as compensation, since Beltre was a Type A free agent. The contract includes a clause that allows the Rangers to void the final year if Beltre does not have 1,200 plate appearances in 2014-15 or 600 plate appearances in '15. Beltre, who will be 37 at the end of the deal, is not worried about that -- or about holding up his part of the contract. "I feel I will get another five-year contract after that," he said. Beltre's shoulder injury in 2009 marked the first time since '01 that he had been on the disabled list and played less than 143 games in a season. "It's baseball. You can get hurt doing anything," Beltre said. "I know when I come to the ballpark, I will put my work in and do my best to be healthy. I play hard and play to win." Beltre originally signed with the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic and was 19 when he was first called up from the Minor Leagues on June 24, 1998. His best season with the Dodgers was in 2004, when he led them to a National League West title by hitting a career-high .334 with a league-leading 48 home runs, 121 RBIs and a .629 slugging percentage. The Dodgers lost to the Cardinals in four games in the NL Division Series, Beltre's only appearance in postseason play. That was also his final year with the Dodgers, as he left as a free agent to sign with the Mariners. Now, he has a chance to return to the postseason. "Adrian had a great deal of interest from a lot of Major League clubs," Boras said. "But Adrian made it clear that he was not going to any place where he did not have the opportunity to win. He has been in the playoffs one time -- and he has been in the Major Leagues since he was 19. "This was a meeting of the stars."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.