Two years ago, Carlos Beltran, who had never taken a World Series at-bat, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Against at least one offer of three years and the possibility for four, Beltran accepted two years – and $26 million – from the Cardinals, because he believed an October like the one that just passed was more likely in St. Louis.
At the risk of another year or two of security, atop knees so creaky he played 81 games in 2009 and 64 in 2010, Beltran nevertheless was beyond sturdy for the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants in 2011, and then became a fixture for the Cardinals in the early post-Pujols era. True to his reputation, he batted .306 over 29 postseason games in St. Louis with five home runs and 21 RBI. He ran into the outfield wall in Fenway Park when the World Series was only minutes old, still played in every game, still batted .294 (the rest of the Cardinals batted .220), and perhaps showed once and for all that Carlos Beltran was not the soft player some folks – and Mets fans – presumed him to be.
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He says his knees give him little trouble, even now at 36 years old. The fact he missed 28 games in two seasons as a Cardinal tends to support that. As do the 56 home runs.
A week into the offseason, six teams have expressed varying degrees of interest in Beltran, a number that is likely to grow in a free-agent market that offers Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo as the big-ticket outfielders and then Beltran as the three- or four-year alternative. That’s right, according to sources, Beltran is no longer on the two-year plan he was after the 2011 season, though he remains adamant that he will go to a place where October baseball is most plentiful.
He will not accept the one-year, $14.1-million qualifying offer from the Cardinals. Therefore, his return to St. Louis is unlikely.
As Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told reporters shortly after the World Series, "We never want to close doors. Reality is, when you look at the depth, trying to find ample playing time, I’m not sure how happy he will be."
The Cardinals are moving on. So, too, is Beltran.
The New York Yankees, who are expected to lose Curtis Granderson, and the Boston Red Sox, who apparently will lose Ellsbury, are eager to have him. Beltran had a reasonable-enough experience over nearly seven seasons with the Mets to consider a return to New York, this time in the Bronx. The character-driven Red Sox would seem a natural. The Baltimore Orioles are a possibility, as are the Philadelphia Phillies and the Texas Rangers. More will come.
[Related: Ultimate free-agent tracker]
The conversation, of course, will center around Beltran’s age – he’ll be 37 in April – and the condition of his body, and whether a franchise will choose to risk a contract into Beltran’s early 40s. But he can still play. And he can still serve as the competitive heart of a ball club and of a clubhouse. He may not be the youngest outfielder on the market, and he’s not the best outfielder on the market, but he could be a great value, even at three or four years.