Carlos Beltran relishes his role as elder statesman on the St. Louis Cardinals, a team likely to contend for the NL Central title in 2013.
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But Beltran, who hit 149 homers for the Mets from 2005 through 2011, won't rule out a return to New York to play for either the Mets or Yankees under the right circumstances.
"I would love to stay here, but at the same time, the organization has to do what's best for the organization," says Beltran, who will be a free agent after this season. "I miss a lot of my friends in New York -- guys I played with. But when it's time to move on, it's time to move on.
"Going back, it would depend what the situation is for me -- if it makes sense. You've got to think about all [options]. But I'm not going to think about it [now]. I have things to worry about this year."
At 35 and plagued by tendinitis in both knees, Beltran isn't the player he was when he nearly went 40/40 (38 homers, 42 steals) for Kansas City and Houston in 2004 or won three consecutive Gold Gloves (2006-08) as the Mets' centerfielder. But he still hit 32 homers, drove in 97 runs and was named to the NL All-Star team in 2012, his first season with St. Louis, where he signed for two years and $26 million.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny says he won't play Beltran in centerfield this season, once again deploying him in right, where he made 125 of his 132 starts last year.
"For the most part, I was healthy last year, and this year I [came into] spring training feeling the same way," said Beltran, who appeared in 151 games in 2012, his most since 2008. "I know when I'm healthy, good things are going to happen.
"I played centerfield for a long time and I do [miss it]. But it is what it is. Now I'm a rightfielder and I have to do the best I can do. I thought it was going to be a difficult transition for me to make, but it was an easy one. I guess when you play centerfield, you can play the corners."
Beltran, who was sidelined by knee surgery until mid-July when he was with the Mets in 2010, said that to maintain the health of his legs, he's developed a routine that includes lower-body lifts, lunges, leg presses and squats. Game preparation is one area in which he tries to lead by example.
"My responsibility as a ballplayer is to try to make younger guys understand the game and how things work at the big- league level," he said. "Young guys come to me with questions. I'm here to help and, at the same time, to do my job. I know a lot of young players look up to what I do and the way I do it, so I make sure to do things the right way and they can follow it by example."
That's worked for Jon Jay, who has inherited the Cardinals' centerfield job. Jay, 27, batted .305 last season and played errorless ball in 116 games.
"To me, Carlos is more than just a baseball player. He's someone I can call a friend and mentor, all in one," Jay said. "He's someone I've always looked up to. It's going to be an honor, when I look back on my career, to have worked with him and spent these years with him.
"As a centerfielder, he was one of the best out there -- and he still is now. I admired the way he'd play in, use his legs and challenge guys: 'Hit the ball over my head.' Then he'd go get it."
Jay said there's something else about Beltran.
"Whether he's feeling good or bad, you're never going to know," he said. "He's going to give you the same effort every day, and that's something you can really admire as a teammate. You can never tell whether he's struggling or doing well. He's always the same, whether he's just hit three home runs or gone 0-for-4. You can't tell the difference with him."