The New York Times today reported that the Yankees have no present plans to make a bid for Beltran.
Is Steinbrenner rope a doping this offseason? Talk to, but no bid for Pedro, now Beltran?
Yanks Don't Want Beltran? Now That's Big
By MURRAY CHASS
Published: January 4, 2005
ET'S select the five most intriguing stories of the off-season. In this opinion, they would be the Mets' signing of Pedro Martínez, Boston's signing of David Wells, the Yankees' acquisition of Randy Johnson, Oakland's trades of Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, and Washington's attempt to lose the Expos before it had them.
But if a weekend signal is accurate, the most intriguing story has yet to happen. If it does happen, it will be a nonmove, as opposed to the Martínez, Wells, Johnson, Hudson and Mulder moves.
The nonmove? The Yankees will not sign Carlos Beltran, the most attractive, and expensive, position player on the free-agent market. But it's not just that the Yankees will not be signing Beltran. The story would be that the Yankees will not even try to sign him.
That was the surprising signal from a baseball official over the weekend. The official, who is in a position to hear such things, heard last week that the Yankees did not plan to pursue Beltran.
"Someone told me the other day, if they get Johnson they wouldn't go after Beltran," the official, who refused to be named, said. "Even the Yankees have to have a limit."
No one has ever accused George Steinbrenner of having a payroll limit. What an awful thing to say about the freest-spending owner in the Western world.
Sure, once in a while Brian Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, mutters something about a budget, and he tries to sound sincere. The Yankees, like all teams, are also required to submit a budget to the commissioner's office, which they have done for this year. But just like records, budgets are meant to be broken.
Beltran's becoming a victim of a Yankees budget wouldn't simply be the most intriguing story of this off-season; it would be the most stunning development in years. It would also crush Scott Boras, Beltran's agent, who is counting not only on the Yankees' interest but also on what would be a rare instance of the Yankees and the Mets directly competing for a player.
To have the Yankees yank their interest, just when the Mets are heating up theirs, would be a cruel trick to play on Boras. But then some clubs say Boras has been a cruel trick that has been played on them for years.
Mets officials, including the team's principal owner, Fred Wilpon, met with Beltran in Puerto Rico yesterday. They made no offer but are expected to make one this week.
The Yankees, including Steinbrenner, the principal owner, have met with Beltran, too; they have made no offer. In fact, when Cashman was asked about Beltran last week, he said, "We have to decide if we're going to be a player in this."
The reporters on the conference call who heard Cashman's comment had a hearty chuckle in private; of course the Yankees were going to be a player in the bidding for Beltran, a major player. But Cashman may have been speaking the truth. The Yankees had not decided what they would do about Beltran, who batted .435, slugged 8 home runs and drove in 14 runs in Houston's 12 playoff games in October.
Some Yankees officials know what they would like to do. Giving Beltran $17 million or more a year for seven or more years would be too much money over too long a period.
That thinking is presumably what led to what the baseball official heard about the Yankees' not pursuing Beltran if they acquired Johnson.
The Yankees should have Johnson by the end of the week. With Commissioner Bud Selig's reluctant approval yesterday of the trade with Arizona, the Yankees can begin negotiating a contract extension with Johnson today, under a 72-hour window. When they complete that negotiation, no later than Friday morning, Johnson will waive his no-trade protection.
But a wild card remains in the Beltran business. And the wild card's name is Steinbrenner.
Steinbrenner has said that he likes Beltran, but that he has not said if he wants him. Every other Yankees executive can be opposed to giving Beltran $17 million or more a year for seven or more years, but if the owner says do it, they will ask Boras, "Where do we send the money?"
If the Mets are prepared to offer Beltran a hefty contract, Boras would have no problem putting Beltran into a Mets uniform. Boras's history demonstrates that he is more interested in contract terms than geographical location, and the Mets are serious about wanting to sign Beltran.
This is not a Vladimir Guerrero escapade of last off-season, when the Mets made a ridiculously low offer. The Mets' offer will be competitive. But Boras would still prefer to have the Yankees join the competition.
Steinbrenner could be lured into competing for Beltran because of his hitting, fielding and base-running talents - or because the Mets want him. Historically, when the Mets have done something major, Steinbrenner has tried to counter with a major move. When the Mets signed Martínez last month, the Yankees intensified their efforts to acquire Johnson.
If the Mets were to sign Beltran, the Yankees would probably be left without a major move as retaliation. So the more spirited an effort the Mets make for Beltran, the more tempted Steinbrenner may be to ignore his advisers and go after Beltran himself.
Should Steinbrenner choose to sit out the chase, though, his decision would become the No. 1 story of the winter.