Believe or not, Adrian Beltre is steadily moving up the all-time list for games started at third base. In fact, on Wednesday he is scheduled to play third; in doing so he will pass Phillies’ great Mike Schmidt into fifth on the list with 2,213 games started at the hot corner. Games played is not the be-all-end-all for a player’s ability, but of the top twenty players on the games played list, thirteen are in the Hall of Fame (three of those not in the Hall: Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, and Rafael Palmeiro, would be locks were in not for PEDs and gambling). One thing games certainly reflect is durability and managers do not tend to let bad players play a lot, therefore, you must have a lot of talent if you play in that many games.
Beltre was signed as an amateur free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994 and made his debut in June of 1998. The native of the Dominican Republic was a consistent member of the Dodgers until 2004 when he had his best year in the majors. He cranked out 48 homers, knocked in 121 runs, and hit .334. This campaign was good enough to be runner-up in MVP voting (Bonds).
The Dodgers were unable to keep him and he was signed as a free agent by the Mariners. His numbers dipped a bit in spacious Safeco Field. In five seasons Beltre hit 103 homers, knocked in 396 runs, and hit .266. This was the period of time where Beltre dropped off the map and out of the public consciousness.
He spent 2010 with the Red Sox where he experienced a rejuvenation (28 homers, 102 RBI, .321) and earned himself a five-year deal worth $80 million from the Rangers. In his first three seasons in Texas he has averaged 33 homers, 100 RBI, and a .312 batting average. At 35 years old, Beltre is not a spring chicken anymore, but he has proven he can still play. He has two vesting options through the 2016 season and assuming those are picked up, he could move up the list even more. Wade Boggs is just beyond Schmidt with 2,215 games. Brooks Robinson is first on the list (2,870), followed by Graig Nettles (2,412), and Gary Gaetti (2,282).
Up until this point, Beltre’s career numbers have to put him in the discussion for Cooperstown. In 17 seasons, he has totaled 376 home runs, 1,309 RBI, 2,432 hits, and a career .282 batting average. BaseballReference.com lists some impressive names alongside Beltre’s in the Similarity Scores for players through age 34. Within the top ten, seven are in the Hall of Fame (Cal Ripken, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, and Al Kaline highlight the group). Ron Santo is the player who has the highest Similarity Score with Beltre and Santo entered the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Beltre has the opportunity to shoot up numerous career lists as the season and his career progresses. There is no denying that baseball hasn’t seen many third baseman better in the last 15 years.