WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — When the Yankees signed Chris Carter to a one-year, $3.5-million contract just before spring training opened, it increased their total outlay for sluggers this offseason to $16.5 million. That includes Matt Holliday, who came on board for one year and $13 million.
For $500,000 less, the Yankees could have brought back Carlos Beltran. That’s what the 39-year-old signed for with the Houston Astros on Dec. 3, a day before the Yankees agreed to terms with Holliday.
Beltran, who still makes his home in New York, was open to a return to the Yankees, who traded him to Texas last Aug. 1. But it just didn’t work out.
“At the end of the day, when you’re in free agency, you have to make your decision based on what is out there for you,” Beltran said Tuesday before hitting his first home run of spring training off former Met Oliver Perez. “They said that they had interest, but they never [followed up]. That’s where I live and the kids are in school and all that. It’s a simple life. But at the end of the day, at this point where I am in my career, when you’re a free agent, you cannot wait until a team decides if it’s going to make an offer or not. Houston was very aggressive. The first day that they were allowed to make offers, they called my agent. They told him, ‘What do we have to do to get Carlos?’ ”
When the Astros were ready to make a deal, Beltran said, “I just told my agent, ‘I have to make a decision because if I wait any longer, you don’t know what could happen.’ ”
Beltran’s return to Houston was a surprise in that he has been booed viciously there ever since he left the Astros for the Mets as a free agent after the 2004 season. Beltran had a postseason for the ages in 2004, hitting eight home runs in two rounds as the Astros came within a win of the World Series. Houston fans never forgave him for signing with the Mets for seven years and $119 million. Will bygones be bygones?
“I don’t know,” Beltran said with a smile. “We have to wait until Opening Day.”
When the Astros open the season against Seattle at Minute Maid Park on April 3, Beltran will be in a lineup with former Yankees catcher Brian McCann, who agreed to waive his no-trade clause to come to Houston.
“It had to be the right situation for me,” said McCann, who was displaced from his everyday role by super-rookie Gary Sanchez in the second half of 2016. “It had to be to a contender to make sense for me. This team was at the top of the list. When my agent called me and talked to me about it, it was a no-brainer for me. I still want to catch every day. I’m not ready to DH and catch once a week.”
Of his time in the Bronx, McCann said: “I loved it. I loved every minute of it. It was a great place to play. I met a lot of great people.”
One of those people, McCann said, was Beltran, who hit a combined .295 with 29 home runs and 93 RBIs last season. The Astros, who beat the Yankees in the wild-card game two years ago but missed the playoffs in 2016, are hoping the addition of the veterans will help their otherwise youthful lineup.
“Most of the guys here are young,” Beltran said. “Some of them had the opportunity to experience a playoff race two years ago, so they know what they can do. Last year was a down year for this team, and going out and adding the guys they added, that’s super-positive with the talent they have.
“They’re super-young. I love to be around young guys. When I was with the Yankees, I had the opportunity to be with some of the younger guys over there. I like to provide information about the things that I do. Combine that with the things they do, maybe that can help them understand why I have stayed in the game for such a long time.”
Nineteen years, to be exact. Will Beltran’s 20th big-league season be his final one?
“I told my wife that I want to play this year and see how I do,” he said. “If I do well, if I have a pretty good year, why not try to come back next year? If I don’t feel like I’m satisfied with the year I had, then that’s it. But like I’ve been saying for the past couple years, I can’t set a deadline on when it’s going to happen. Only how I feel and my production is going to dictate how long I play.”