It's not if Beltran will go, but where?

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Carlos Beltran #15 of the New York Mets

Carlos Beltran #15 of the New York Mets watches the flight of his fifth inning two run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field. (July 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004.

Mike Navarra of Floral Park took in his fifth Mets game of the season Wednesday night wearing a black Carlos Beltran T-shirt and hoping against hope that Beltran would still be a Met after the July 31 trade deadline.

But he knows better.

"He's gonna go," he said. "They're gonna trade him."

If T-shirts and jerseys are any indicator, Beltran fans were not as plentiful at Citi Field for the Mets-Cardinals game as Reyes fans or Wright fans or even Albert Pujols fans.

(The one guy we saw wearing a Jason Bay jersey? That purchase looks about as good today as the Mets' investment in the player.)

But there are Beltran fans. They stood and applauded when he launched a massive game-tying, two-run home run into the second deck in rightfield in the fifth inning of the Mets' 6-5 victory. Even Mets fans who have never quite forgiven Beltran for keeping his bat on his shoulders on the final strike of the 2006 NLCS had to admire that shot, his 15th of the season.

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It's that thunder that makes Beltran the best hitter on the trade market. And his walk-year status makes him the most likely Met to be dealt in the next 10 days.

"It would be hard," said Navarra, 52. "I happen to like him. I don't want him going anywhere. I don't care what team he goes to."

Ah, what team he goes to. That's where all the conversational sizzle is around Beltran right now. Not if he will go. But to where?

So far, he has been linked to the Red Sox, Giants, Pirates, Tigers, Yankees, Braves, Phillies. Everyone but the Long Island Ducks, it seems.

Navarra said it wouldn't be extra difficult for him to see Beltran go deep into the postseason with the Mets' NL East rivals or even the Yankees. But we wondered how other Beltran fans would feel about that.

"I'll feel disrespected if he gets traded to Philadelphia," said Alex Maldonado, 29, of Brooklyn, who also sported a black Beltran T-shirt. "I'm a Mets fan, you know? New York and Philly -- we don't bang. Yankees? We're giving away a gift. Anywhere else, the price would have to be right. That's how I feel. But don't trade him."

Sorry, Alex. Sandy Alderson is listening to the Mets' fan base and won't trade Jose Reyes -- really, how could he if the Mets are to have any chance of re-signing their shortstop? -- but Beltran is another story. A story of maximizing your assets or correctly assessing the marketplace or optimizing your parameters or some other Alderson-speak way of saying Beltran is a goner anyway so let's get what we can for him.

That's probably why it leaked recently that the Mets would be willing to pick up most or all of the $6 million Beltran will be due for the season's final two months. That brings cash-poor teams such as the surprising Pirates into the conversation. And makes it much more likely a trade will happen.

Is Beltran the most popular Met? No, Reyes holds that honor. But Beltran has his admirers around baseball, including a certain first baseman for the Cardinals. St. Louis is one of the few contenders that is not seeking Beltran's services for their stretch run.

So where does Pujols think Beltran is going to end up?

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"I'll let you know that when I'm a GM," he said. "Obviously, I have a lot of respect for him and it's not my business to jump in there whether he goes or stays here. I wish him the best, like I always do."

Apparently, he's not the only one.

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