Sources: Cards still interested in Beltran

The Cardinals did extensive background work on free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran last week and maintain strong interest in him, according to major league sources.

Other teams remain in the mix, however, and Beltran is weighing a variety of two- and even three-year options, sources say.

A three-year deal might seem like a stretch for Beltran, who is 34 and had injury-marred seasons in 2009 and ’10 before appearing in 142 games for the Mets and Giants in ’11.

The Brewers, though, just awarded a three-year, $36 million contract to free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who is only 14 months younger.

Beltran was a more productive hitter than Ramirez last season, ranking 11th in the majors in OPS-plus – combined on-base/slugging percentage adjusted to his league and ballpark. Ramirez ranked 24th in that category.

The Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays are among the other teams interested in Beltran, sources say. But the Red Sox appear more focused on pitching, and the Rays only would emerge as a serious bidder if Beltran’s market crashed, which is unlikely.

The extent of the Jays’ interest in Beltran is unclear, but the team is exploring ways to improve its offense. The Jays, according to rival clubs, also have significant financial flexibility, as evidenced by their reported bid for the rights to Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish.

Beltran’s history of knee problems seemingly would make him a poor fit on the artificial turf at Rogers Centre. But the Jays could mitigate that issue by using him more as a designated hitter than an outfielder, particularly at home.

Then there are the Cardinals, a team looking for offense following the defection of first baseman Albert Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $254 million free-agent contract with the Angels.

The Cardinals are unsure about their projected right fielder, Allan Craig, who underwent surgery on his right knee a week before Thanksgiving. Beltran, a switch-hitter, would provide insurance for Craig and a potential right-handed hitting alternative to Jon Jay in center – though Beltran did not play center last season.

Other free agents also could fit with the Cardinals if Beltran goes to another club. The Cardinals, sources say, have expressed interest in Coco Crisp, a switch-hitting center fielder, and Cody Ross, a right-handed hitter who plays all three outfield positions.