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Hamstring injury won't derail Beltre's season

Veteran third baseman to provide value to Rangers upon return
MLB.com @williamfleitch

On Tuesday night, 39-year-old Adrian Beltre, a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the greatest third basemen of all time, had just about as much fun on a baseball diamond as one can have. I don't mean that he hit four homers, or smashed a walk-off hit, or defeated his opponents in such an overpowering fashion that their families will carry the shame with them for generations to come. I mean that Beltre had fun the way that kids have fun. The way we all should.

In a game against the A's, in the span of one inning, Beltre:

On Tuesday night, 39-year-old Adrian Beltre, a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the greatest third basemen of all time, had just about as much fun on a baseball diamond as one can have. I don't mean that he hit four homers, or smashed a walk-off hit, or defeated his opponents in such an overpowering fashion that their families will carry the shame with them for generations to come. I mean that Beltre had fun the way that kids have fun. The way we all should.

In a game against the A's, in the span of one inning, Beltre:

• Caught a line drive but then pretended to drop the ball -- cartoonishly juggling it like a silent film pratfaller -- to sneak out a double play. It did not work. The umpire laughed like a child.

• Ran out an infield single despite a terrific play by the Athletics' Jed Lowrie deep behind second base. Beltre then applauded Lowrie and shook his head jokingly, as if to say, "There is no outpacing the blinding speed of this 39-year-old man." Lowrie and the first-base umpire laughed like children.

• Tried to sneak from first base to third after the ball got away from the pitcher after a foul ball, as if no one would notice, as if he could get away with it just because he was Beltre. Everyone in the stadium laughed like children.

You can watch the whole shenanigans, which, again, took place over the course of a single inning, right here:

Video: Must C Comical: Beltre's one-of-a-kind tomfoolery

But what might be the ultimate takeaway from Tuesday's game wasn't Beltre's amusing tomfoolery. It was what happened six innings later, after he singled to right-center. Right after Beltre hit the ball, he pulled up and grabbed his left hamstring. After the game, the jovial version was gone.

Video: OAK@TEX: Beltre on hamstring strain suffered in loss

The news didn't turn out as bad as everybody feared: The Rangers placed Beltre on the 10-day disabled list Wednesday with what was diagnosed as a Grade 1 strain, something that might not keep him out longer than two weeks. But when you're 39 years old, two weeks recovery sometimes ends up stretching past that a bit. When you combine Beltre's injury to those of teammates Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus, it feels like Texas' infield might be cursed, and the club's playoff hopes are dwindling.

The Rangers weren't widely expected to be a contender in the American League West this year, but they weren't likely to tear down their roster either, partly out of deference to veterans like Beltre. But Texas is eight games out of first place in the AL West and 6 1/2 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot. Baseball Prospectus puts the Rangers' playoff odds at 1.2 percent, which is somehow below that of the Tigers. It's going sideways on them, and losing their franchise icon right as they play 10 games against teams with winning records is lousy timing, to say the least. Things could get tougher in a hurry.

But Beltre is somehow still the Rangers' best position player. He's batting .310, because, of course he is, and he has been his usual splendid self at third base. As Fangraphs' Travis Sawchik noted last year, Beltre has somehow been getting better as he has gotten older. Last year was one of the top 25 seasons by someone 38 or older in the past 115 years, and only 23 players in baseball history have produced more fWAR than Beltre after such an advanced age.

Video: TEX@HOU: Beltre makes nice scoop to nab Gurriel

Earlier this year, Beltre passed Rod Carew for most hits by a Latin American player, and if he really is back in two weeks, he'll likely pass Ichiro Suzuki for most hits by a player born outside of the United States. The injuries are starting to pile up for Beltre after a mostly healthy career, but when he's at full strength, he's still among the best there is.

Of course, this is the problem with old players: They get hurt. The Rangers have been lamenting all their injuries this year, but check out who two of the club's top players by fWAR have been so far this year: 44-year-old Bartolo Colon and Beltre. Several of Texas' top players by fWAR are 28 or older. The Rangers a struggling, aging team, and when you combine those two things -- not to mention a smart, reactive front office -- moves may be coming.

Which makes you wonder: What will come of Beltre this year? He is, after all, a free agent at the end of 2018, with the two-year, $36 million deal he signed before the '17 season expiring. Beltre has said he wants to finish his career with the Rangers, but that he would understand a trade if the team falls out of contention, which is looking increasingly likely to happen.

On one hand, it is likely going to be a crowded Trade Deadline market; you don't have to squint hard to potentially see, say, Manny Machado and Josh Harrison available in a few months. On the other, it's Beltre. For clubs looking to make a postseason push, an impending Hall of Famer who's still as good as he has ever been is sort of handy to add to the roster. (Beltre has 10-and-5 rights, which means he can veto any trade, but at this point it seems like he could be willing to go play for a contender for a few months.)

Video: SEA@TEX: Beltre passes Brett with historic double

And this is the strike zone for Beltre, right? To have the opportunity to finally win that World Series that has eluded him his whole career? Carlos Beltran was the feel-good story with Houston last year, but he was mostly a situational contributor on that team; Beltre is still near-peak-era Beltre and would be in any October starting lineup every night. Plus: He's Beltre. Half the fun of any postseason game would be people trying to touch his head.

But it requires Beltre's hamstring healing, and the veteran star getting back where he is supposed to be. It's rare you can say this of 39-year-olds, but Beltre is even playing for a contract this year: Even in a chilly free-agent market, someone will pay for a year or two of Beltre.

Beltre has as much to play for as he has at any point in his incredible career, and he'll do it with as much joy as anyone in the sport ever has. It's sad to see him sidelined. But it might not be the worst thing for Beltre, the Rangers and fans everywhere.

Take your time, Adrian. Get that hamstring healthy. This can still be the season of Beltre. Though I suppose, these days, they sort of all are.

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre