Posted: Wednesday March 30, 2005 1:22PM; Updated: Wednesday March 30, 2005 1:24PM
Adrian Beltre had never hit 30 home runs in a season before launching 48 blasts for the Dodgers in 2004.
Harry How/Getty Images
Sure things in baseball are hard to come by, and you don't get them by throwing a bunch of money around. It didn't work with Chan Ho Park, Jason Giambi, Denny Neagle or the entire roster of the Mets in any given year.
Still, money always gets tossed around in the offseason, and those who grab it are expected to perform. Sometimes they do -- Curt Schilling last year comes to mind. Too many times they don't.
No free-agent acquisition is on a hotter seat this season than former Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who had a breakout year in 2004 and used it to snag a $64 million, five-year deal from the Mariners. After five seasons of mostly underachieving in L.A., Beltre belted a baseball-best 48 homers last year, drove in 121 runs, hit .334 ... and now he's moving, for the first time in his young career, to the American League.
Was last year a coming-of-age or a simple fluke? Can he hit AL pitching? Will he like AL ballparks? How will he adjust to life outside of the Dodgers, a team that coddled him from the start?
"I don't know yet," Beltre said recently at the Mariners' spring training camp in Peoria, Ariz.
He doesn't know?
Well, that could be bad.
"That can be bad," Beltre agreed. "But I don't think it can be that bad. I've faced AL teams before, in interleague. But I don't really know the basics of the game, how they work, how they pitch, how the defense plays you. There's a lot of stuff. But, hopefully, it won't be that bad. It won't be the same. But I don't know how big of a difference it will be."
For the money they gave him, the Mariners will be expecting the same kind of near-MVP season he had last year. Beltre, who at 25 already has seven years of experience in the majors, wants none of those expectations.
"I don't think I have to do what I did last year to help this team to make the playoffs," Beltre said. "I know with this kind of team, with the people we have front of me -- it could be [Randy] Winn, Ichiro, [Bret] Boone, whoever -- I know I'm going to have a chance to drive some runs in. I just hope I stay healthy and can be consistent all year long."
With Opening Day less than a week away, here are some more Big Gambles for 2005:
2. Sammy Sosa, Orioles
No player has more riding on '05 than slamming Sammy. To make his trade from the Cubs happen, Sosa gave up an $18 million option for '06. Sosa is gambling -- and this is one huge honker of a bet -- that a good '05 with the O's in cozy Camden Yards will make him an attractive free agent worthy of a bigger, better and longer contract. Good luck with that.