Mac Engel

Injured Beltre deserves heat over decision to play in World Baseball Classic

The Texas Rangers are not particularly good, and there is no sight of their Hall of Fame third baseman returning any time soon.

The horrific start of the local baseball club is not entirely on the absence of Adrian Beltre, but he has been getting a pass when he merits a bit of criticism.

The moment the Rangers handed him that two-year, $36 million extension last year it should have come with specific language that he was to avoid participating in any athletic event that was not Texas Rangers’ related. This includes dog walking, or retrieving the mail.

His noble yet needless decision to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic may not have directly led to his latest leg injury, but this isn’t a coincidence. And it’s costing the Rangers.

Older guys with sore legs are always older guys with sore legs. The last thing sore legs need are more games, innings and at-bats that don’t count.

To the Rangers, the WBC does not count.

The Rangers stink and they need Beltre more than the Dominican Republic ever did. The four games and 15 at-bats he had for the Dominican Republic are four more games and 15 more at-bats than he has had for the Texas Rangers this season.

If this was any other Ranger other than Adrian Beltre, he would be getting it far more than he has, which is not at all.

“No timetable,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said of Beltre’s return before his team played the San Diego Padres on Wednesday.

Given the way the season has gone it’s a surprise Banister didn’t just announce Beltre is out for the year.

The good news is Beltre is walking on a treadmill. The bad news is MLB has yet to permit players to play a game from a treadmill.

Anything Beltre does until he starts running the bases is no reason to get excited at the thought of his imminent return. Because it’s not imminent.

Until Beltre is seen running the bases, preferably on a baseball diamond, then you can start thinking about a timetable. Given the amount of time he has missed so far, factor in several days for a handful of rehab games for at least 20 at-bats. All told, a week for rehab is a safe guess.

What previously felt like a late May return now feels more like June.

“He’s in a good mood and upbeat,” Banister said. “The last time (I saw him) he was not that way. ... He’s smiling.”

This is what passes for good news these days for our last-place Rangers: Adrian Beltre is smiling, but the rest of us are still frowning.

Fearing a Beltre injury has been part of the deal for the past few years for the Rangers. He routinely manages, and plays through, leg injuries. For Beltre to miss this much time with calf strains and leg pain, it can’t be good.

The man is the ultimate pro’s pro who has earned the right to set his own routine, workout schedule and pace, but the Rangers should have leaned on him hard in the spring when he expressed a desire to play in the WBC.

The WBC matters far more in foreign countries than it does in the U.S., but he had played in the tournament before. It technically was no longer on his bucket list.

Either owner Ray Davis or GM Jon Daniels needed to pull Beltre aside and tactfully remind him they did him a favor last year by giving him that large extension before he became a free agent.

His agent, Scott Boras, always lets his prime-time clients become free agents before they come to terms on a new deal. Becoming a free agent ensures the best chance for a bidding war.

Boras made an exception for Beltre, because he never thought he was going to get $36 million for a 37-year-old infielder; that’s why the deal was done in April. The Rangers did it because they love Beltre, for good reason.

One of the reasons they love him is because he makes them a better team, but he can’t from the bench.

In his place it has been nice to watch Joey Gallo enjoy an extended look at big-league pitching.

“It grows other leadership,” Banister said of the absence of Beltre.

That’s great; what we have seen thus far is the team needs him. That Gallo is not Dak Prescott, and the Rangers are not ready to thrive without their Hall of Fame third baseman.

Would this have been different had Beltre not played in the WBC? We’ll never know. What we do know is that it was never worth the risk.

“We know we can do this,” outfielder Carlos Gomez said. “This is not September. When this team gets hot, it’s tough to beat.”

There is no timetable for this, either.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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