A New York showdown for Beltran?

The New York Yankees will have competition in their pursuit of All-Star Carlos Beltran, and some of it may come from right across town. <P> Beltran told a Puerto Rican newspaper, <I>Primera Hora</I>, that the New York Mets have been "very aggressive" in their interest so far, but that the team hadn't yet made the 27-year-old outfielder an offer.

A meeting between the Mets and Beltran could occur next week, according to an Associated Press report.

It has been widely believed that the Yankees will step to the plate as the strongest suitor for Beltran's services, especially after the team traded Kenny Lofton to the Philadelphia Phillies and appears ready to move Bernie Williams into a designated hitter role.

Beltran met with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner last week and was impressed; the Houston Astros also paid Beltran a visit in Florida last week in an attempt to keep the prized young star. The Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers are also thought to have interest.

But the Mets would have their own reasons for wanting to pursue Beltran; namely, snagging the top free agent position player on the market just weeks after signing Pedro Martinez, believed by some to be the best pitcher available this winter.

To compound matters, centerfielder Mike Cameron will miss as much as the first month of the season after he had surgery on his left wrist to repair cartilage damage in December.

The Mets do not currently have a right fielder – Moises Alou had been rumored as GM Omar Minaya's number one target before he signed with the San Francisco Giants – and Cameron has publicly said that if the Mets signed Beltran, he would move to right field.

Beltran split last season between the Kansas City Royals and the Houston Astros, batting .267 with 38 home runs and 104 RBI in 159 games. But it was the postseason where he truly shined, hitting a blistering .435 with eight homers and 14 RBI as the Astros advanced within one victory of their first World Series.

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