David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
LOS ANGELES - Want Carlos Beltran?
And really, who doesn't, with him raking again in October? But for the teams serious about acquiring the impending free agent, here are a few questions to ask yourself, based on Newsday's conversation with him on the field before Tuesday night's NLCS Game 4 at Dodger Stadium.
Were you a contender this season? Do you plan on assembling a World Series-caliber roster by Opening Day? How does a three-year contract sound?
The good news for the Yankees is Beltran believes they fit the profile. He was aware of the rash of injuries that cost them a wild card, and figures the Yankees will make the necessary moves to get back to October.
"They have a tradition of winning over there," Beltran said. "They'll do what it takes to put a winning team on the field."
In his mind, that includes re-signing Robinson Cano, whom Beltran sees as developing into their cornerstone. He also played armchair GM in agreeing that Brian McCann would make sense in rebooting the franchise for 2014. Of course, the free-agent catcher with a career .823 OPS won't come cheaply.
"I'm going to cost less than McCann," Beltran said, laughing.
So what will his price be? He's finishing a two-year, $26-million deal with the Cardinals, who took somewhat of a gamble with his history of debilitating knee issues toward the end of a seven-year stay with the Mets. But Beltran has stayed healthy in St. Louis, where he has hit .282 and averaged 28 homers and 91 RBIs.
Despite that success, and his fondness for the organization, it doesn't appear Beltran will be returning to St. Louis. The sides didn't broach the subject of an extension this season, and the Cardinals seem ready to move on with young Oscar Taveras.
"We never felt we wanted to engage in a midseason discussion for a variety of reasons," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "We're not closing any doors, so when we get to this offseason, we'll have to make some hard decisions. But the one thing we do have is some depth coming and we've got to see how this plays out. Obviously, Carlos has been a very special member of this organization for two years."
With that mind-set, Mozeliak still is likely to make Beltran the qualifying offer of $14.1 million, which will guarantee the Cardinals a sandwich draft pick to compensate for his departure. But Beltran sees the writing on the wall in St. Louis, and turning 37 in April, he's looking for a three-year deal that should take him to retirement.
Judging by his hard-core conditioning regimen and recent good health -- he's played 151 and 145 games the past two seasons -- Beltran appears to be a safe bet for that extra year. As insurance, he also seems to be warming to the idea of going to the AL, where he could DH.
Beltran still considers himself a regular corner outfielder, so he'd want to DH only once or twice a week. But the NL doesn't offer him that flexibility, and he is smart enough to realize his legs will require more rest as he approaches 40.
Brian Cashman would have to get creative to fit Beltran in a budget that is using $189 million as a guideline -- if not a mandate -- for 2014. Plus, the Yankees already have four outfielders under contract for next year -- and a fifth, Curtis Granderson, could wind up settling for the qualifying offer if they extend it.
The team that acts quickly could win the Beltran derby before it ever really begins. In 2011, Beltran signed with the Cardinals on Dec. 23, and he sounded almost envious of Torii Hunter, another respected veteran who spent only a matter of days on the market last fall before the Tigers nabbed him, at 37, with a two-year, $26-million deal.
"He made a good choice," Beltran said.