The biggest key, though, may be the Mets' open-mindedness: While the Mets wanted to clear Francisco Rodriguez's contract off the books, they view a resurrected Beltran as a way to bring back a very top prospect and are said to be unafraid to trade Beltran to one of their National League East rivals (the Braves are another team that's called on Beltran), perhaps in part because his contract expires at year's end and would therefore be somewhat less likely to haunt them in subsequent years.
The Mets seem determined to trade him, as they understand they are an unlikely contender in the difficult NL East, and there is a belief that he wouldn't clear waivers, which means a trade would have to happen before the July 31 trade deadline.
There has been buzz over the past few days about Beltran and the Phillies, who do have a decent prospect stash. While most of Philly's better prospects are pitchers, two people with knowledge of the talks said the Mets' first target with Philly would be top outfield prospect Domonic Brown. That may seem at first blush like a big asking price, but the Phillies are probably the World Series favorite and are clearly going for it this year, they need to get more righthanded (Beltran is a switch hitter while Brown is a lefty), Beltran is the best hitter on the market and they can fit him onto their team without paying a cent.
Several scouts saw Beltran go 3-for-3 with two walks Tuesday night in a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals, raising his average to .293 and his OPS to .911. He also leads the NL with 30 doubles and has 14 home runs and 59 RBIs playing home games in pitcher-friendly Citi Field.
After the Phillies, the Giants, Braves and Red Sox appear to be the most likely landing spots for Beltran. Al those teams are also in the outfield market, like Philadelphia. Boston is said by one source to be among the two most aggressive so far, confirming a Foxsports.com report. But all things considered, the Phillies may be slightly more likely. Like Philly, the Red Sox are dealmakers, but they may be more reluctant than the Phillies to give up top prospects.
Beltran has a no-trade clause and he has said he wants to play for a World Series contender, so the teams that are more certain to make the playoffs are most likely to be approved. The Phillies might hold special lure for Beltran as they are practically a playoff certainty, are familiar from his nearly seven years with the Mets and are close to New York, where he lives. It can't hurt that the ballpark is hitter-friendly, either.
Close to 10 teams are believed to have checked in about Beltran, but talks are starting to progress to the point where there are solid favorites and longshots. The Phillies, Red Sox, Braves and Giants all have good enough prospects to make the deal, but word coming out of San Francisco is that they are reluctant to give up their better prospects. The Braves have the prospects, especially pitchers, but they haven't been as aggressive as the Phillies to date.
The Mets will want to receive as much as they can in any Beltran trade, as they have all but decided not to trade superstar shortstop Jose Reyes ("if the Mets traded Reyes, you'd hear crickets at Citi Field," one competing exec said) or even solid but struggling starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey. They could deal veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen and another relief pitcher or two, as well, but they wouldn't bring much in return in a market that is saturated with bullpen help. Beltran, however, is another story.
Here is a rundown of the Beltran suitors:
1. Phillies. Look like the clear favorite at the moment. Arguably baseball's best team needs to balance its lineup. Very capable of surprises (they are also connected to Rockies star Ubaldo Jimenez even though they have baseball's rotation top). Their resistance to exceeding baseball's $170 million luxury tax threshold could be allayed by the Mets paying Beltran's salary. Even if they won't surrender Brown, "they have arms,'' one scout said. But Brown would fit in rightfield as Beltran's replacement in New York.
2. Red Sox. They have been calling on outfielders, and top Boston exec Allard Baird was the one who welcomed Beltran to the big leagues while he was the Royals' GM. Like Philly, they could use a bit of help from the right side.
3. Braves. They seek a big bat to augment a lineup that's been hurt by the lack of production from Dan Uggla (though he homered twice off Ubaldo Jimenez Tuesday night) and some absences. Beltran would be a nice fit. As for their prospects, one scout said, "They have good pitching.''
4. Giants. They've needed offensive help seemingly forever yet muddled through and won a World Series without a lineup full of imposing bats. Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer is believed to be the Giants' other top choice, but the Twins still appear to be going for it in the wide open AL Central. San Francisco got Cody Ross on the cheap last summer, and he was a key to their championship. The Giants do not like to trade prospects, however.
5. Tigers. They are looking for either an outfielder or third baseman and are said to be hoping to add a pitcher and a bat.
6. Brewers. They showed their aggressive nature already by landing Francisco Rodriguez in a trade with the Mets, and could either use Beltran in center or move speedy Corey Hart there. This one's a long shot as Milwaukee is focused on the left side of its infield at the moment.
7. Indians. The American League's surprise team is determined to add an outfield bat. But with Beltran holding veto power, he could easily force his way to a team that's more of a sure thing.
8. Rangers. They are aggressive and will consider anything. But they already have by far the best offense in their division and are more likely to use their excellent farm system to bolster their rotation and bullpen.
9. Pirates. Great, great story. And they have called the Mets. But as a Beltran pursuer, they are probably a real long shot. He does have the no-trade, and may not have gotten caught up yet in all the excitement in the Steel City.
10. Yankees. They called awhile back. But they say they aren't currently in the Beltran market and would call upon top prospect Jesus Montero if they needed a hitter later.
• While several teams have called about the ultra-talented Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus, including the Rays, Nats, Braves and Red Sox, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said he "isn't shopping'' Rasmus and is "highly unlikely'' to trade him. Mozeliak has told teams that exact message as well. Mozeliak also said reports about Rasmus and iconic manager Tony La Russa not seeing eye-to-eye were things that happened last year and were "overblown'' as well.
• The Tigers and Indians have showed interest in the Padres' Aaron Harang.
• The Rangers are talking to teams about starting pitchers and relievers but are not willing to trade top prospects Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez or Leonys Martin for relievers, even great relievers like the Padres' Heath Bell and Mike Adams. Texas is said to be in on the talks for Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez, though.
• The Padres people have also considered keeping Bell and taking the draft choices or signing Bell (though that seems remote) if they don't get what they want. The Phillies, Reds, Rangers, Cardinals, Pirates and Angels (plus Yankees and White Sox to a lesser degree) are looking at San Diego's relievers.
• Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd says he isn't talking now about Jimenez because he doesn't want speculation to get "out of hand.'' Word is the Rockies see their chances to trade Jimenez as 20 percent, at most.
• Rivals believe the Reds might be able to offer the best package for Jimenez. One NL GM suggested Yonder Alonso, Tim Wood and Edinson Volquez would be fair. Mike Leake and Homer Bailer are other young pitchers with value. Alonso fits because teams believe the Rockies are interested in an eventual replacement for Todd Helton.
• Jesus Montero would be part of any Yankees package for Jimenez. Many see Montero ultimately as a first baseman, so he'd fit Colorado. The Yankees are suggesting they don't want to include any of the three pitchers that interest Colorado -- Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances or Ivan Nova, who was hurt during a minor league start on Tuesday night -- and would like to hold onto Austin Romine, a top defensive catching prospect, as well.
• When Rafael Soriano returns to the Yankees, he gets his old eighth inning job back, and David Robertson goes back to the seventh inning.
• The Royals appear likely to hold onto at least one of Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. They need to have a veteran blend to balance all their young talent, and Francoeur would be a positive example. They've received calls on Jeff Francis and Wilson Betemit, as well, though there isn't much buzz about Bruce Chen, about whom Ozzie Guillen said made him want to grab a bat.
• Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, whose three-year deal expires after this one, said he hasn't heard nor has he asked about his situation. The Mariners have lost 10 straight and still aren't hitting, but they appear to be building something pretty special through the draft. Dustin Ackley, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker look like future stars. Ackley has looked good defensively at second base since being promoted last month.
• Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who is trying to sign top drafted talents Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell while his team captures the city, expressed his unhappiness about how almost all top draft choices wait until the Aug. 15 deadline to sign, thus delaying their pro careers. The only No. 1 draft choice known to sign is San Diego's Cory Spangenburg, the No. 10 overall pick who is impressing early with a keen eye and great speed.
"It's a shame. It's brutal for the industry,'' Huntington said. Furthermore, Huntington said if he were an agent, "no way in the world would I tell a player to sit out for a few extra bucks.''
Huntington said he'd be in favor of moving the deadline up to July 1. The Pirates' top two picks were No. 1 overall Cole and big-time prep hitter Bell, the first pick of the second round, who Huntington acknowledged still is a tough sign, as Bell and his family warned. If they don't sign Bell, Huntington said he'd "wish him well at the University of Texas.''
• B.J. Upton is a nice kid, but he still needs to learn to run out grounders. This is more acceptable from a .330 hitter than a .230 hitter (slightly).
• Good to see Nolan Ryan is out of the hospital after a suspected recurrence of his past heart issue.