The discussion surrounding Adrian Beltre's offseason began weeks ago. It can now be ramped up to another level.
Beltre's first and perhaps only season with the Red Sox is done after he flew to Los Angeles on Friday afternoon to be with his wife, who is expected to give birth anytime.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona indicated that Beltre would not return before the weekend series with the New York Yankees and the All-Star third baseman's locker was already cleaned out Friday afternoon, his nameplate ripped from up above.
With Beltre's departure there is the very real possibility that he has played his final game in a Red Sox uniform. He has a $10 million option he can pick up, but it is a foregone conclusion he will turn that down and seek a pricey long-term deal. After the season Beltre has had in Boston there will be no shortage of suitors.
"He was pretty honest about what he was doing here," Francona said of Beltre's plan to sign a one-year deal with the Sox in January. "He was coming kind of on the make good. He made pretty good. It worked out for everybody. Now where it goes, that will be interesting."
Beltre, 31, finishes with a .321 average, 28 homers and 102 RBIs, each number the second highest of his 13-year career. He had a career-high 49 doubles in a team-high 154 games, all while battling a handful of nagging injuries and playing an exceptional third base.
The campaign figures to net Beltre a four- or five-year deal worth more than $50 million, or thereabouts. Boston will have exclusive negotiating rights with Beltre for a five-day period at the conclusion of the World Series, but with agent Scott Boras in the mix Beltre will very likely have an opportunity to test the market.
Francona said he would like to have Beltre back, but knows that such negotiations do not fall under his job description. For now he was content to gush on the merits of his third baseman.
The Sox skipper said it took time for Beltre to feel at ease and the two-time Gold Glove Award winner was extremely quiet in the clubhouse in the early portions of the season, perhaps in part because he had taken the job of fan favorite Mike Lowell. But once Beltre knew he would be in the everyday lineup he relaxed, and the results soon followed.
"Once that happened he became a little more vocal in the dugout," Francona said. "He became a leader on the field. If you ask anybody down there they love him, myself included, and he was a real treat.
"I don't think you can do that on the first day…But A.B. kind of grew into that as he became more comfortable. And guys like that should be leaders. If guys like Beltre are leaders you're going in the right direction. It's hard not to look up to him if you're a teammate of his."
Whether Beltre is a teammate in Boston next year and beyond remains to be seen. With his 2010 campaign now over the process of finding a new home, or staying in the one he has, can begin. Just as soon as he takes care of his fatherly duties.
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