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Cole Hamels: Cliff Lee chose Phillies over Rangers, not Yankees

Insider suggests Phillies would be good fit for Adrian Beltre

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor 

The last time that Adrian Beltre played at Citizens Bank Park was on May 22, 2011. Roy Oswalt got the ball for 28-18 Phillies, while Wilson Valdez, Ben Francisco, John Mayberry Jr. and Dane Sardinha all started for the Phillies. The Texas Rangers won that game 2-0, as they tallied nine hits, two of which came off of the bat of Beltre. 

A lot has changed since 2011. The Phillies, after posting the most dominant regular season in team history that season, have followed it up with six consecutive non-winning seasons. Beltre - who helped the Rangers win their second consecutive American League pennant in 2011 - joined the 3,000 hits club in 2017, one of many accomplishments that has helped cement him as a future Hall of Famer. 

The Phillies entered Saturday afternoon's showdown with the Toronto Blue Jays with a 28-20 record, putting them a half game out of the National League East leading Atlanta Braves and in control of the National League's first Wild Card slot. Meanwhile, the Rangers are 21-32, already 13.5 games back in the crowded American League West. With the Rangers largely expected to sell prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe suggested that the Phillies could be among the teams that would make sense as potential suitors for Beltre: 

The 39-year-old future Hall of Famer has had trouble staying healthy the last two years, but he’s expected to return to the Rangers’ lineup in the next two weeks. If he shows good health, could Beltre be moved to a contending team? There are plenty of teams — the Braves, Cardinals, and Phillies among them — that would love to have Beltre. He has made it clear that he wants to go into the Hall of Fame as a Ranger. It’ll be interesting to see if that precludes him being traded.

It's worth pointing out first that my interpretation of this nugget from Cafardo is that he's suggesting that these three National League contenders could be fits for Beltre, not reporting it. It's not entirely clear, however. 

In any event, while Beltre has dealt with his fair share of injuries since the start of the 2017 season, he hasn't struggled to produce when he's in the lineup. In 102 at-bats in 2018, the four-time All-Star is slashing .314/.375/.422 with a .339 wOBA and 109 wRC+. In 340 at-bats a season ago, Beltre slashed .312/.383/.532 with 17 home runs and 71 RBIs, while posting a 14.1 oWAR. He continued to grade out well as a fielder, while posting a 3.1 fWAR. 

This is not a case of whether Beltre still has it or not - he does - it's a case of whether he'll be able to stay healthy enough to make trading for him worth it. As MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan noted earlier this week, Beltre is currently on the 10-day disabled list with a Grade 1 hamstring strain, the second time the issue has flared up this season. Sullivan wrote that Beltre still isn't likely to return for "a couple of more weeks." A calf injury was among those that limited the Dominican born third baseman to just 94 games a year ago. 

Still, when Beltre has been on the field, he's remained very productive. He's just two years removed from posting a 5.6 fWAR. If Beltre is able to return in early June and puts together a month plus of productive baseball, there's going to be contenders interested in his services at the non-waiver trade deadline.

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For any of that to matter to the Phillies, they'll have to remain in contention up to that point. Even then, it's unclear how seriously they would pursue Beltre. 

Even at 39, no one is debating whether a healthy Beltre would make the Phillies a better team. But it's not that simple. Though he's been worth a modest 0.3 fWAR, there have been stretches during the season that Maikel Franco has looked on the cusp of putting things together. Those may prove to be just that - stretches - but with the Phillies a year ahead of schedule, they may want a few more months to look at the 25-year-old. Once J.P. Crawford returns to short, Scott Kingery may see more at-bats at third base. There's been a case made for sending the struggling rookie down to Triple-A to regroup, but that presumably would just be for a few weeks, not the remainder of the season. 

The Braves - and the Cardinals, with Matt Carpenter looking like he's on the cusp of being shut down - have perhaps bigger needs at third base. That doesn't mean the Phillies couldn't stand to upgrade the position as the playoff race in the National League heats up, but they may not be as motivated to move young talent for Beltre, who would likely be a rental. So while it doesn't seem difficult to imagine the Phillies checking in on Beltre, it doesn't feel overly likely that they'll be willing to part with necessary talent for the third baseman, even if he heats up when he returns from the disabled list. 

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