NEW YORK - The Houston Astros kept waiting and waiting to hear Carlos Beltran say he would accept their contract offer and return to them in 2005. But Beltran never uttered those long-awaited words before yesterday's midnight deadline, so he will play for another team this season, quite possibly the New York Mets.
Because the Astros are no longer able to compete for Beltran, the Mets could be the favorites to sign the center fielder. The Mets also negotiated with Scott Boras, Beltran's agent, yesterday and had made a seven-year offer for at least $112 million. Houston had offered Beltran a seven-year deal for more than $100 million.
Just after the deadline passed, Boras said he was still negotiating with New York, and the sides kept on talking after the deadline passed, trying to put an agreement in writing.
The Mets had been worried that Houston's deadline would become a problem for them, but that potential is gone. Now the Mets are concerned that the New York Yankees will emerge from their recent cocoon to try to sign Beltran.
The Yankees have repeatedly said they were not involved in trying to sign Beltran, a stance they reiterated early yesterday. When Boras called the Yankees last night, they told him they would get back to him. That was not the type of response associated with a team eager to sign Beltran.
Because Beltran's status is no longer affected by any deadline, Boras will certainly try to get the Yankees involved in the discussions. Agents often try and get the Yankees involved in negotiations because they say it often increases the possible paydays for their clients.
Because Beltran declined salary arbitration from the Astros, the team had a midnight deadline for signing him. Now that the Astros and Beltran failed to reach an agreement, the Astros have lost negotiating rights to him until May 1. Obviously, Beltran will be long signed and playing elsewhere by then.
Boras had told associates on Friday night that there were four teams still competing for Beltran, which meant he was probably including the Yankees and the Chicago Cubs in the mix. Two baseball officials said the competition for Beltran was really between the Astros and the Mets.
Losing Beltran was a serious jolt to the Astros because he was immensely popular and helped them come within one victory of getting to their first World Series. Beltran batted .435 with eight homers in a superb postseason after the Astros acquired the center fielder from the Kansas City Royals.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.