Early Decision

Prize free agent Carlos Beltran must choose whether to wait out a bidding war or take the Astros' money and run
January 10, 2005

At his current home run and stolen base pace, Carlos Beltran, 27, will by age 40 join Barry Bonds as the only members of the 500-500 club. That's one of many lofty projections included in the statistics-based tome that Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, has assembled and distributed to teams coveting his free-agent client. "No one needs a book to tell them how rare a player Beltran is," says one National League executive. "But is he worth the 10-year commitment that Boras has suggested? Is he worth more than [AL MVP] Vladimir Guerrero, who got a [five-year] $70 million deal [from the Angels] last year?"

As of Monday the Astros, who traded for the centerfielder last June, were reportedly the only team to have made an offer, somewhere between $70 million for five years and $96 million for six. But this week the bidding war will heat up, primarily because Houston must re-sign Beltran by Saturday or lose negotiating rights with him until May 1.

As teams weigh Beltran's worth--Boras has reportedly set the baseline at seven years, $119 million--the five-tool All-Star must ponder these questions.

•Is there room to shine on the Yankees? For any other team Beltran's acquisition would be a franchise-changing event; for the Yankees, Beltran would be just another star in a crowded constellation. But Beltran, who toiled for six-plus seasons in Kansas City, craves playing for a perennial contender, and though their payroll is soaring past the $200 million mark, the Yankees still have the resources to make the largest bid. Says one NL general manager, "It might be to the Yankees' advantage to lay low past the January 8 deadline. They might not have to go as high with the Astros out of the picture."

•Are the Mets for real? New Mets G.M. Omar Minaya, who was scheduled to meet with Beltran and Boras this week, can't match the Yankees' cash, but he can offer Beltran a chance to be the face of a franchise, alongside new ace Pedro Martinez. Minaya's aggressiveness in this winter's free-agent market may appeal to Beltran, but it would take a leap of faith to believe that the Mets, who have lost more than 90 games in each of the last two years, are a World Series contender.

•How serious are the Cubs in their pursuit? Chicago G.M. Jim Hendry covets Beltran, but his inability to trade rightfielder Sammy Sosa, who's due $17 million next season, makes a serious run at Beltran difficult. The Mets could help: If they drop out of the Beltran sweepstakes, they might renew trade discussions regarding Sosa.

•Does signing with the Astros mean settling for less money? Time is running out for Houston, and more than Beltran's future is on the line: Roger Clemens's decision to return may hinge on Beltran's. By taking the Astros' offer this week, Beltran might be preempting a lucrative bidding war; but waiting could also lower his value by eliminating one team from the mix. "This is all a big guessing game for Beltran and the teams," says the NL G.M. "No one really knows what's going to happen and when it's going to happen."

Postholiday Shopping

With stars like Adrian Beltre, J.D. Drew and Pedro Martinez gone, G.M.'s don't have much left to choose from on the free-agent market. But as of Monday a few big names, such as Carlos Delgado, remained.