OAKLAND -- “Salary drive” is usually spat out as a term of derision, suggesting the only reason a ballplayer is playing hard is that his contract is up at the end of the season and he's trying to impress prospective employers.
The corollary that often goes unspoken is that the only time Player X is engaged is when he is worrying about next year’s contract, and once that is resolved his effort tends to drop off accordingly.
Which brings us to Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez of the Red Sox, both of whom are staging impressive salary drives as they head toward free agency. Neither shows the least inclination to come out of the lineup.
Beltre leads the Red Sox in games played with 139 (135 starts), including Sunday, missing just four games all season. This will be his 54th consecutive game since sitting out the first game after the All-Star break on July 15 with a sore hamstring.
Beltre is tearing it up this month, batting .351/.455/.730/1.184, with four home runs and eight RBIs in September's first 10 games.
Martinez, meanwhile, has not missed a game since coming off the disabled list on July 26 after missing a month with a fractured thumb. Martinez will be starting his 54th consecutive game Sunday, which includes both ends of doubleheaders against the Mariners in late August and the White Sox last weekend.
Martinez, too, is on a roll, if anything an even more impressive one than Beltre, batting .393 (22-for-56) with five home runs and 12 RBIs over his last 14 games dating back to Aug. 27. The switch-hitter came into Sunday leading the majors with a .411 average against left-handers and while he had a chance to improve those numbers against Athletics starter Dallas Braden, Martinez went 0-for-5 on the day.
Beltre, meanwhile, stayed hot, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored Sunday.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona has spoken of an obligation to players who have been there day-in, day-out for him, which is why he continues to put Beltre and Martinez on his lineup cards, even with the team out of contention. This is their livelihood, after all, and they deserve the right to put themselves in the best possible position going forward.
But beyond that, there is this: Beltre and Martinez both play the game in a way that is the antithesis of whatever negative meaning “salary drive” connotes. Beltre played five straight seasons in which he didn't miss more than six games in a single season, and last year was the first time since 2001 he has played fewer than 140 games.
“It’s not only what he’s done for the Red Sox this season,’’ one talent evaluator said a couple of weeks ago when the Sox were in St. Petersburg, Fla., to play the Rays. “It’s the way he goes about his business. Plays hard every day, runs everything out, maximum effort.’’
The same applies to Martinez. He played in a career-high 155 games last season, won immediate acceptance as a team leader upon his arrival after last July’s trade, and has been a model of professionalism every day he has been here.
It’s possible, of course, that neither will be back next season. By signing a one-year deal with the Sox at the urging of agent Scott Boras, Beltre has re-established his market value in spectacular fashion. He will be in demand -- the Tigers, White Sox, Angels all are potential suitors, and there will be others. The Red Sox, meanwhile, must decide whether they intend to commit to Martinez as their everyday catcher for the next three or four years; Martinez defines himself as a catcher, and he is likely to sign with the team that views him the same way.
But these “salary drives” of Beltre and Martinez represent a perfect meshing of what has been best for the team and their own personal interests.