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Giants may be favorites for Beltran, plus more trade week updates

The Giants look like a possible favorite for Carlos Beltran -- at the moment, anyway. Beltran prefers the National League, the Mets might prefer a division other than the National League East and, according to sources, the Giants understandably have him atop their list.

The Giants, flush with cash after winning the 2010 World Series, also have expressed a willingness to pay much of the $6-million-plus left on Beltran's '11 salary. The real issue is that the Mets want big-time prospects back, and San Francisco has so far balked at including righthanded pitching prospect Zack Wheeler and its other upper echelon prospects.

The Braves are also very interested. But like the Giants, they appear unwilling to surrender their very top pitching prospects for a rental, even a great one like Beltran, who entered Monday night second in the National League with 47 extra-base hits. The Phillies, who've balked at moving top outfield prospect Domonic Brown and pitching prospect Jarred Cosart, don't seem all that involved, even with their top choice, Hunter Pence, seemingly staying in Houston

"If we're trading Beltran, who (just about) leads the league in extra-base hits, we sure as heck aren't trading him for nothing,'' one Mets person said.

For now, the Mets are also talking to two interested American League clubs, the Rangers and Red Sox, and are heavily scouting their systems. But with Beltran's publicly stated preference for the National League, is the Rangers/Red Sox dalliance nothing more than an attempt to stir San Francisco, Atlanta or some other NL team into giving up better prospects? (While Beltran said publicly that he isn't ruling out AL teams, he has a no-trade and is believed to much prefer the NL.)

And, for that matter, is the Giants' reported interest in the Rays' B.J. Upton little more than a way to send a message to the Mets? The Giants are believed to have the Twins' Michael Cuddyer near the top of their list with Beltran, and Upton wouldn't seem to fit into the category of hitter as Beltran or even Cuddyer, who is uncertain to be traded as the Twins are still hoping to be buyers not sellers. Should Cuddyer become available, he more than Upton could hurt Beltran's trade value since he's a more similar player.

For now, it looks like gamesmanship is a big part of the Beltran negotiations.

Word is out that the Astros are telling folks that they will very likely keep Hunter Pence, who they consider the "face of the franchise.'' With little else to sell, Astros people are having a hard time bringing themselves to trade their best and most marketable player.

Incoming owner Jim Crane has given word to cut the payroll to $60 million. But word is, Crane himself at one point has suggested keeping Pence. If that's true, it's hard to imagine embattled GM Ed Wade taking the chance to trade him.

Pence interests the Phillies, who prefer players under contractual control and had him as their main target, and also the Braves and Pirates. So his staying in Houston could help the Mets in their negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Astros are trying to trade starting pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. But that won't be easy. Rodriguez's contract has $40 million remaining on it and one rival GM said, "Nobody will touch Wandy.''

Many executives have suggested they believe Ubaldo Jimenez's name on the trade market is nothing more than a trial balloon, a la Arizona's dangling of Justin Upton last winter. But that hasn't stopped those teams from heavily scouting Jimenez. At least the Reds, Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox, Tigers and Blue Jays were among teams at Jimenez's last start, at Arizona.

It's true a high-placed Rockies source called a Ubaldo trade chances "about 20 percent'' shortly after his name first came up in talks. And he won't be easy to replace in a Rockies rotation already depleted by the loss of Jorge De La Rosa and the virtual disappearance of Aaron Cook. But the Rockies are said to be serious enough to have recently held a two-hour internal conference call to go over the trade alternatives.

They should be able to get a haul if they traded Jimenez despite his slippage this year. One scout said, "His stuff is down, but he's still good. I'd sure as heck take him over Bartolo Colon (the Yankees' No. 2 starter)."

The Reds are cited as the most logical landing spot if Jimenez is traded because they have the best prospects. Yonder Alonso is blocked at first base by Joey Votto, but he'd make a natural replacement for Todd Helton in Colorado. Plus, the Reds' have so many viable young pitchers that Travis Wood and Edinson Volquez are currently in the minors.

• There is a growing sense that Hiroki Kuroda's contention that he'll take trade scenarios on a case-by-case basis may only be a kind way of saying he really doesn't want to go. An executive with an interested team suggested as much, though nobody knows for sure until a trade comes up. The Tigers seem very interested, with the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Rangers also in the mix. Kuroda hasn't gotten much support with the Dodgers -- he's only 6-12 despite a 3.19 ERA -- but he is said to love L.A.

• The Diamondbacks "need a shortstop,'' one scout said. With Stephen Drew out, they are using Willie Bloomquist with Cody Ransom as the backup. Possible trade targets could include the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal and Jamey Carroll and the Nationals' Ian Desmond.

• Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton appears likely to be dealt. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, interested teams include the Nationals, Braves, Pirates, Reds, Cardinals and Phillies. The Giants were mentioned elsewhere, but Upton is thought to be at best a fall-back option for them since they need a hitter, not another centerfielder. The Phillies, though, are said to have liked him since they faced him in the 2008 World Series. The Nats are an odd and unlikely suitor because they are a non-contender, but they are desperate for a centerfielder and Nats GM Mike Rizzo (who signed B.J.'s younger brother Justin for the Diamondbacks) is a friend of the family. Some scouts still love Upton despite the fact that he hasn't hit over .241 since 2008.

• The Nats also have shown interest in Twins centerfielder Denard Span, according to Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports.com, who suggested a package of Desmond and a reliever, perhaps Drew Storen. But the Twins are said to be "going for it'' and seem unlikely to trade one of their better, healthier everyday players.

• The Red Sox have perused the outfield market but they seem mixed on Oakland's Josh Willingham, San Diego's Ryan Ludwick and Kansas City's Jeff Francoeur. Josh Reddick's nice start has taken off some of the pressure for Boston.

• The trade offers haven't been enough yet for star closer Heath Bell, who's third in the NL in saves with 29, and there's an outside chance the Padres might even keep him. It seems crazy given that he's a free agent whose discounted price for the Padres would even seem to be too much for the cash-strapped-team, but the bullpen market is flush and teams don't want to surrender good prospects for what might amount to 20 innings of a reliever. The bigger issue is that the Padres need to get something better than the two draft picks they'd get as compensation if they just lost him as a free agent after the season.

• Bell is said to have particular interest in going to the Cardinals, one of many teams not yet offering enough. The Rangers, Phillies, Angels, Reds, Pirates, White Sox and Yankees also have shown interest (though the Yankees and White Sox to a lesser degree).

• Carlos Peña is likely to be traded. While the Diamondbacks could use him, they have an aversion to strikeouts and Peña has whiffed 104 times already this year. The Pirates are another team that's been mentioned.

• While the Rays are telling teams James Shields is unavailable, Danny Knobler of CBSsports.com reports that they might listen on Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis.

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