MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Simply, Rangers can't envision team without Beltre

Star third baseman means too much -- at bat, in field, in clubhouse

Simply, Rangers can't envision team without Beltre

In the end, the Texas Rangers could not imagine Adrian Beltre playing anywhere else. That's the bottom line. He has come to mean too much to the franchise and to the area. In that way, he's about as close to being the perfect player as anyone in baseball.

First things first. He's a great player, a future Hall of Famer, one of the five or six best third basemen ever, and that's the biggest reason the Rangers signed Beltre to a two-year extension worth around $36 million.

Because he's 37 years old, there's some risk in extending him through the 2018 season. Big deal. Every contract has some amount of risk. Besides, what's the alternative? To see him finish his career someplace else? Not after all he has contributed.

Let's begin with the obvious. In six seasons, including 2016, with the Rangers, Beltre's .873 OPS is 15th among all Major Leaguers. He's 12th in home runs (137) and seventh in RBIs (468).

To watch him play third base so elegantly, so efficiently, never rushing, never out of position, is to see a craftsman performing at the highest possible level.

Beyond that, there's something else about Beltre the Rangers love, the thing that may have closed the deal. Beltre is the heart and soul of the team, a quietly funny leader with a penchant for doing and saying exactly the right thing in good times and bad.

He mentors young players, sometimes as a friend, sometimes with tough love. He's an example for the veterans with his relentless work ethic and obsession with doing the right things.

Now about the Hall of Fame. That day is coming. We will look back and remember we were lucky to be able to watch him play just as fans of a different era said of Mike Schmidt, George Brett, etc.

In 19 seasons, he's a four-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Silver Slugger. He has finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting five times.

His 84.9 Wins Above Replacement by BaseballReference.com is 32nd all-time and right there in the neighborhood of baseball's best third basemen -- Brett (88.4), Wade Boggs (91.0) and Chipper Jones (85.0).

In a larger context, there are a string of Hall of Famers behind him on that list, including Ken Griffey Jr. (83.6), Joe DiMaggio (78.1) and Johnny Bench (75.0).

Look, these numbers are complicated and can be picked apart. No number can precisely put a player's entire career into context. But they offer an indication of how good Beltre has been.

According to Jay Jaffe's Hall of Fame projection system, Beltre ranks behind only Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Boggs and Brett on the all-time third-base list.

Because Beltre is still playing at a high level, he could cross a bunch of significant thresholds by the time he's done, including 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. He's sitting at 2,780 and 415.

He could also end up starting more games at third base than anyone ever. At the moment, he's at, 2,449 and is 341 behind Brooks Robinson's 2,790.

There have been ongoing questions in recent seasons about how long the Rangers would want Beltre. After all, he was quickly closing in on his 40th birthday, and one of the Rangers top prospects, Joey Gallo, is a third baseman.

That's a trigger Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has been unable to pull. It's not about whether Gallo is ready for the big leagues. The Rangers have been to the postseason three times in Beltre's first five seasons with them. Along the way, his stature as both a productive player and as a teammate and representative of the franchise has risen to a place only a few players ever reach.

To try to picture the Rangers without him was too large a leap and would create too big of a hole, both in terms of play at third base and leadership in the clubhouse.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister saw it firsthand in his first season with the club last season.

"I've never been around a better clubhouse," he said.

He ticked off a bunch of names, but the list almost always began with Beltre. In a season in which the Rangers rallied from eight games below .500 to sprint to the AL West championship, Beltre was in the middle of everything, hitting .344 in the final five weeks when Texas finally caught and passed the Houston Astros.

When he attempted to play despite crippling back spasms in a Division Series against the Blue Jays, his teammates' regard for him grew to yet another level. And when the Rangers added it all up, they decided he belonged in their uniform for the remainder of his career. As tough decisions go, this wasn't one.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.