Mariners Handicapped By Beltre Injury

beltreHampered by an ailing shoulder, Adrian Beltre was faced with a potentially career-altering choice: play hurt, or have surgery.

The Mariners’ third baseman opted for the latter yesterday, and will go under the knife in the coming week to remove bone spurs from his left, non-throwing shoulder. He will likely miss six-to-eight weeks recovering from the procedure.

Now, the biggest question facing Beltre’s employer is what to do with their injured employee.

The power-hitting infielder, who is in the final year of a five-year contract, was a candidate to be moved at the trade deadline. Now, that scenario seems unlikely. Opposing teams won’t want to obtain damaged goods, no matter how talented, and the Mariners, in turn, won’t be able to acquire fair market value for their disabled commodity.

In all, it’s an enormous lose-lose situation for both the Mariners and for Beltre.

The Mariners — who have yet to decide whether they are buyers or sellers as the trade deadline looms — were relying heavily on Beltre’s bat in the middle of the order to produce runs for an oft-stagnant offense. Had they chosen to keep Beltre through the end of the year, his presence would have certainly played an integral role during the team’s playoff run. Had the organization instead chosen to trade Beltre, he would have almost certainly fetched one or two highly-regarded prospects.

For Beltre, who is essentially playing for his next contract, the injury equates to a hefty amount of lost wages. Unless he can return from surgery and perform significantly better than he has performed thus far this season, he will likely be faced with the prospect of signing a one-year deal in the offseason, or a multi-year deal with significantly less money than he has been accustomed to making.

Beltre’s injury does, however, increase the likelihood that Seattle could re-sign their starting third baseman in the offseason. Based on the reduction in salary that he would likely take, the brevity of the deal that he would likely sign, the slow maturation of minor-league replacement Matt Tuiasosopo, and the fact that the signing of Beltre by another team would likely only net the M’s one compensation draft pick, the organization may be convinced that retaining Beltre for 2010 makes the most sense for the team.

Until Beltre’s return, the Mariners have a host of options to insert at the hot corner. Current members of the 25-man roster that have third base experience include Jose Lopez, Chris Woodward, Russell Branyan, Josh Wilson, and Ronny Cedeno. At Triple-A, the Mariners have a pair of hot hitters in Mike Morse and Chris Shelton who have manned third extensively throughout the year.

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