With Astros out, Mets inch closer to Beltran

Carlos Beltran spurned the Houston Astros on Saturday, leaving the ball squarely in the Mets' court with a clear message: bring me to New York. <P> The Mets and Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, are believed to be hammering out the final points of a seven-year contract worth at least $112 million, with industry sources reporting that the two sides are as little as $4 million apart.

The Houston Chronicle reported late Saturday that Boras informed Astros owner Drayton McLane that Beltran had chosen the Mets. The Astros had until midnight to finalize a deal with Beltran or lose negotiating rights with him until May 1.

"It slipped through our fingers in the last, last few minutes," McLane told the Chronicle. "It was just some sticking point. It should never, never have gotten to this."

Saturday's movement leaves the door wide open for the Mets to woo Beltran to Shea Stadium, although the team is not out of the woods yet.

The Jan. 3 pow-wow between several Mets executives and Beltran's camp did wonders for their credibility with the 27-year-old free agent, but the Chicago Cubs are still in play with a five-year offer believed to be in the $75 million range. Even though the Cubs' deal is for fewer years than the Mets' offer, it would theoretically free Beltran to pursue a second free-agent deal at the age of 32.

The Yankees are also the ever-looming shadow in the negotiations, as Boras reportedly tried several times to draw George Steinbrenner into the bidding. The Yankees have thus far resisted, but conflicting media reports paint the team as possibly interested in jumping in, should the Mets not bang out a deal quickly.

Beltran hit .267 with 38 home runs, 104 RBI and 42 stolen bases with the Astros and Kansas City Royals in 2004.

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