Carlos Beltran continues to sort through interest from at least five clubs -- maybe more -- and hopes to make a decision by Christmas, sources with knowledge of the discussions say.
The Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays were all said to be "in the mix" on Wednesday, and talks were heating up. By Wednesday night, the Indians had joined them in serious talks with the free agent outfielder.
Beltran is said to have offers for both two and three years, with the dollars varying significantly. He earned $20 million last season in the final summer of a seven-year, $119 million deal.
At this point, the six-time All-Star appears to be weighing his preferred city (cities?) against average annual value (AAV) in yearly salary. The many American League clubs involved suggest that, at this point in his career, teams view Beltran more as a designated hitter than as an everyday outfielder.
While Beltran still prefers the outfield, one source close to him said Wednesday that he would be open to DH'ing part-time.
One team that probably would offer Beltran the most time in the outfield is St. Louis. The Cardinals have been aggressive all along, especially since Albert Pujols signed with the Angels. St. Louis figures to move Lance Berkman to first base and go with Allen Craig in right field, with Matt Holliday in left and Jon Jay in center field. Beltran could mix in both in center and right in a rotating Cardinals cast.
Beltran has intrigued the Blue Jays all winter -- enough, according to a source, that their pursuit remained unchanged after it was revealed this week that the Rangers had won the posting for Japanese free agent pitcher Yu Darvish. In other words, did the Blue Jays, who were believed to be knee-deep in the Yarvish bidding, up their ante after losing the pitcher? No, they've been aggressive all along.
In Toronto, Beltran projects more as a DH-type, because the Jays, of course, have Jose Bautista in right field and Colby Rasmus in center. As of now, they've got newly acquired Ben Francisco, Travis Snider or Eric Thames in left field. Beltran has played very little left field in his career.
The Red Sox have had an exceptionally quiet off-season, losing closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies and so far failing to add any significant pieces. They have been looking for a bat to lengthen their lineup, and with right-fielder J.D. Drew gone, Beltran makes some sense in Boston. Right field can be demanding in Fenway Park, however, with the configuration of the fence, and David Ortiz is back as the Red Sox DH.
Tampa Bay, on a tight budget, needs help at both first base and DH, where Johnny Damon got most of the at-bats last year.
The Indians have been scrounging around for ways to improve their offense all winter, and their late entry into the Beltran talks Wednesday added intrigue as the outfielder moves toward making a final decision. Cleveland has been a distant admirer before -- the Indians spoke with the Mets last July about acquiring him in a deal. Beltran had no-trade powers then and, eventually, approved a deal to San Francisco. The Giants talked about bringing him back early in the off-season but scotched that idea fairly quickly because of a tight budget.
Adding Beltran not only would give Cleveland another potent bat that it seeks, but also depth behind center fielder Grady Sizemore. Banged up severely in recent years, Sizemore has undergone five surgeries in the past two seasons, including one to fix a microfracture in his knee. The Indians are set at the corner outfield spots with Mickey Brantley and Shin Soo-Choo, and at DH with Travis Hafner.
Now 34, Beltran batted .300 with 22 homers, 84 RBI and a .385 on-base percentage in 142 games last summer for the Mets and Giants. He's had serious knee issues in the past but was strong enough to produce an All-Star season in 2011.
The Rockies also were talking with Beltran, but earlier this week they signed former Minnesota Twin Michael Cuddyer to a three-year, $31.5 million deal.