BOSTON — Neither Carlos Beltran nor John Mozeliak came out and said that the right fielder’s run in St. Louis is over.
But they didn’t need to. As much as Beltran enjoyed his two years wearing the Birds on the Bat, and as much as he provided the Cardinals on and off the field, they know.
The Cardinals no longer need Beltran like they did when Albert Pujols departed. They appear set in right field with Allen Craig moving off first base to make room for Matt Adams. Also, despite a disappointing 2013, the club still believes top prospect Oscar Taveras will be roaming Busch Stadium’s outfield sooner than later.
Beltran certainly isn’t ready to move into a fourth-outfielder’s role or play for a backup’s salary. Why should he?
After the Cardinals packed up for the season as the Red Sox celebrated a championship Wednesday night, Beltran and Mozeliak understandably danced around the questions about a possible return. Still, one didn’t have to read between the lines to know what direction both were leaning.
Beltran: “They know that I made it clear I would love to come back, but we have to see what is in their plans. I understand. I’m a veteran and the organization will make a decision based on what makes sense for them. I won’t take anything personally if I don’t come back to St. Louis.”
Mozeliak: “We’re never going to close the door on anything, but, obviously, we have to start thinking about what next year looks like, what our depth looks like, where we think we need to most add help. When you speak specifically of Carlos, we’re just going to keep the door open and see where that will lead.”
One problem is timing. The Cardinals have five days from the end of the World Series to make Beltran a qualifying offer, which they almost surely will. If he were to accept, he would return for one year at $14.1 million.
But Beltran has only a week to decide after the offer is made. Such a tight window hardly gives him time to test the free-agent market.
While few clear matches for a 36-year-old outfielder are obvious, at least three teams meet the basic requirements: They have a legitimate chance to reach the postseason, they will give Beltran a starting job and they will agree to a two- or three-year deal for at least his 2013 salary of $13 million.
Because you don’t see many outfielders nearing the age of 40 playing every day, you can just about rule out any team that doesn’t employ a DH. That leaves a trio of AL teams that didn’t make the postseason this year but figure to be in the running in 2014.
Rangers: They have Alex Rios under contract for $12.5 million and said they will make a qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz but he could decline. Even if Cruz stays, he could split right field and DH duties with Beltran. The Rangers also have the resources, and though they failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009, they have the talent to win the AL West.
Yankees: Speculation in the New York media began weeks ago. There’s no doubt the Yankees will be anxious to return to the postseason and that Beltran would look great in pinstripes.
The Yankees, however, are stressing financial restraint these days and already are on the hook for $45.5 million for Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki.
But if Alex Rodriguez’s suspension is upheld, the Yankees won’t have to pay him the $25 million his contract calls for in 2014. They also will clear more than $42 million with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retiring and Curtis Granderson becoming a free agent.
While some of their savings figure to go to re-upping Robinson Cano, they should not have trouble finding enough for Beltran. As for playing time, Beltran makes a better option than any of their three veteran outfielders.
Orioles: They’re finally relevant again after a second consecutive winning season, and Beltran would provide a nice boost in the middle of a lineup with Chris Davis and Adam Jones. On the flip side, they prefer shopping in the bargain bin these days and Beltran has no reason to cut them a discount.
As he stood outside the Cardinals clubhouse late Wednesday night, trying to be heard as the Red Sox partied on, Beltran wasn’t ready to rule out any possibilities.
“I’m a free agent,” he said, almost as if that fact just was sinking in. “I’ve got to listen to everybody.”
Does he think a return is likely?
“You have to ask Mo about that,” Beltran answered. “Right now, I am going to go home, rest, sleep for a couple of weeks and wait for my agent to call.”
Mozeliak chose to speak about this year’s club and not specifically about its intent with Beltran. But Mozeliak’s words still provided more than a small clue.
“There is that feeling when you realize there is an ending,” he said. “This group has to realize it’s a young, talented group with a very bright future. They all realize in this business that faces change. That’s just part of it.”
Beltran and the Cardinals both benefited greatly in his two seasons. The future looks promising for both sides, too, even if they won’t be on the same side of the field.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.