Quick 411: Boras Opens Beltran Bidding

Carlos Beltran is declared by many to be not only the head of the 2004 free agent class but one of the best all-around players in the game. Every team wants him, but few can afford him. So where exactly do the Chicago Cubs fall now that Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, has opened the bidding?

Jim Hendry has publicly said he remains interested in Beltran's services.

"We told [Boras] that we certainly have interest in Carlos. But in the end, the player will have the right to decide where to go and you can't control that," Hendry said.

So it is clear that the Cubs want Beltran. It is also clear that they could afford him if the parent company allowed Hendry to raise payroll beyond what is currently being projected. What is not clear is whether or not the Tribune Company will allow an increase, or if Hendry deems it necessary to make such a request.

Certainly the only game plan made public is that with Sammy Sosa still on the payroll, Hendry would like to trade him before making a move for Beltran.

"Some things have to happen in certain ways for us to probably become more involved, but Scott and I have a good relationship," Hendry said.

So for Cubs fans, it will all be about the waiting game.

Meanwhile, three other teams have been publicly active in their quest for Beltran. The Houston Astros, New York Yankees and New York Mets have all expressed interest in Beltran and are rumored to be ready to extend contract offers.

The Astros have already stepped up to the plate with a current offer. The Houston Chronicle has reported that the total amount was valued at $96 million over six years. Astros owner Drayton McLane refuted the report, which stated an amount significantly greater than the previously rumored offer of $70 million over five years (also published in the Chronicle).

"We acknowledged that we made an offer, but in no way did we disclose [the numbers]," McLane said. "That [published] offer is a rather large offer. And it was not our offer. I don't know where that came from, but it is way beyond what our offers are."

"It's a very, very substantial offer and one that we feel is certainly competitive, although we have no way of knowing that," Astros general manager Tim Purpura said previous to McLane's announcement. The Astros offered salary arbitration to the All-Star center fielder, giving them until Jan. 8 to re-sign him.

The other big contender is the Yankees. Publicly, they have declared Beltran one of their key objectives during this off-season, making them a heavy favorite towards signing Beltran. Once George Steinbrenner has his eye on the prize, he will do his best to acquire it. Usually that means massive amounts of money--more than the competition is willing to invest in a player.

However, despite having met with Boras recently to discuss Beltran, the Yankees have not made an offer at this point. Many theories exist as to why this is so.

There have been rumblings that Steinbrenner does not want his payroll to skyrocket to absurd levels and will not shell out top dollar for Beltran and the pitchers that the Bombers inevitably will sign. The Yankees' payroll is so high that if they give Beltran $16 million a year, it will actually cost them $22.4 million a year early on in the contract due to the 40 percent luxury tax they now find themselves in.

Every $1 million above that will cost them an extra $400,000. "The Boss" may be more inclined to attempt to acquire the highly sought-after Randy Johnson and leave Beltran as a second thought. In other words, spend the money on a more pressing need.

Coupled to this is a poorly talked about rule in baseball that may be a stronger reason for the above mentioned rumor.

Beginning in 2005, Bud Selig intends to enforce the debt-equity rule. That rule has been on the books, but largely ignored, for years. It essentially prohibits teams from carrying debt that is more than roughly 60 percent of the value of the franchise.

The exact formula that MLB utilizes to implement this rule is fairly specific, and according to people in the know, it is speculated that the Yankees will only be able to offer somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million in guaranteed money. A contract to Beltran alone would absorb that amount, leaving the Yankees with no money to spend on other players without being in violation with this rule.

Another theory is that Steinbrenner is hoping to postpone serious negotiations until after the Jan. 8 deadline for the Astros. This would allow him to deal with one less bidder and hopefully keep the costs down.

None of these theories have ever been a part of Steinbrenner's MO, perplexing many as to why he is waiting so long to acquire a player he so publicly desires, especially when Boras may not wait so long for fear of one less contender for his client.

Whatever the reason, the Yankees are also playing the waiting game.

The third major team in the running for Beltran is the Mets. Tony Bernazard, assistant of general manager Omar Minaya, expressed that while no formal offer has been made by the Mets, "we are going to concentrate on Carlos."

Bernazard added, "With Beltran, we know that it is going to take time. We have not made an official offer but we are very interested in him. We hope to be in the fight. We have the same possibilities as everyone else does."

According to the New York Post, an executive for another club said Minaya is definitely trying to make a quick, stealth attack to see if he can land Beltran. Minaya has also told upper management that if the Mets do indeed intend to make Beltran an offer, they should not make a low-ball presentation like the organization did last year for Vladimir Guerrero.

So what does Beltran want? Thanks to Boras, we will never truly know. Scott Boras is one of the best sports agents out there and is well known for manipulating the facts to his clients' benefit. Everything that comes out publicly must always be taken with a grain of salt. However, there are rumors and small indicators as to what Beltran may be inclined to do.

One strong rumor is that Beltran simply does not want to play for the New York Yankees or New York Mets, due to his nature versus that of the New York media and New York City in general. This rumor has been expressed in multiple newspapers within New York as well as locally in Beltran's homeland of Puerto Rico.

There are also indications that Beltran will only play for a possible contender, and that his inclination is towards re-signing with the Astros if nothing better comes along--also a rumor strongly expressed in Puerto Rico.

With the Cubs playing the waiting game, the team is not in the best of positions to sign Beltran to a deal. As the price rises on Beltran, the less likely it is that the Cubs sign him to a contract.

The Cubs have never been known for lengthy contracts, and despite Beltran's age (27), it is unlikely that Hendry starts that trend now. Yet someone has to replace Sosa's star power and presence eventually, and it is believed that Hendry may go hard after Beltran regardless of Sosa's presence.

A possible deal is thought to be in the works that is back-loaded and valued at $100 million for six years. Whether or not this offer is genuine or even implemented remains to be seen.

Boras apparently has told the Yankees, Astros, Mets, Cubs and Detroit Tigers (a team believed by many to be a phantom bidder used by Boras to increase the price) not to even bother if they do not offer at least seven years at $112 million. Boras would like to get this deal done before January 8 to keep the Astros in the bidding war.

If this is true, it will only be a matter of time before we find out who wins the 2004 free agent prize. January 8 is just around the corner, and expectations will be high.

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