According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran is expected to make a decision on his future sometime before Christmas Day. Beltran, a 34-year-old slugger, recently finished up a seven-year, $119 million contract that he signed with the New York Mets in 2005. He was traded to the San Francisco Giants midway through the 2011 season for right-handed pitching prospect Zach Wheeler, and Giants GM Brian Sabean recently said his team doesn't have enough money in their budget to bring him back for 2012. Here's a look at the top places where Beltran may end up.
St. Louis Cardinals
Obviously losing out on the Albert Pujols sweepstakes was a major blow to St. Louis and it opens up a major power void in their lineup. Beltran won't be able to match the kind of offensive production that Pujols can offer, but you can count on him to deliver at least 80 RBIS, 20 homers and 85 runs scored in any given season. The Cardinals have an opening at right-field while Allen Craig heals from knee surgery, so St. Louis would be a great fit for Beltran.
Boston Red Sox
As Beltran gets up in age, his balky knees may be better suited for an American League team. He still has a few years left as a solid corner outfielder, but he could be a designated hitter for an American League team in the not-so-distant future. With the Red Sox finally out from under J.D. Drew's five-year, $70 million contract, the team is in the market for a right-fielder and Beltran would be a superb addition to Boston's potent starting lineup. The Red Sox could also use another switch-hitter in their lineup to take advantage of the shallow, 37-foot Green Monster in left field.
Toronto Blue Jays
With the Blue Jays perhaps just a year or two away from contention, adding Beltran makes perfect sense because he can immediately step in and be the team's best hitter behind Jose Bautista. Beltran would be a major upgrade both offensively and defensively over current right-fielder Eric Thames, and they could also use him as a designated hitter to preserve his legs for years to come. Doing so would surely extend his career and get the most bang for the buck for the team paying for his contract.
Beltran has put up some nice numbers at Coors Field over the course of his career, hitting .276 with six home runs, 24 RBIs, nine doubles and a triple over a 25-game stretch. If Michael Cuddyer signs elsewhere, Beltran may very likely end up in a Rockies uniform. Colorado wants one player or the other.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are the "dark horse" in the Beltran race, and it's unclear at this point whether they'll be willing to shell out the big bucks for an aging player whose best days may very well be behind him. The Rays don't have the resources to match what the Red Sox or Cardinals may be willing to offer, but they have a decent shot at snagging him if they can get him to agree to a two-year deal.
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Eric Holden is a lifelong New York Mets fan. Carlos Beltran was one of his favorite players on Mets in recent years. Follow the author on Twitter @ericholden.