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Carlos Beltran Is One of Baseball's Top Players He's Primed For A Big Year But Likely Will Leave KC
Beltran Is One of Baseball's Top Players
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 16, 2004
MESA, Ariz. (AP) -- Carlos Beltran might be the most overlooked and least recognized baseball star today.
The Kansas City Royals center fielder likes it that way.
"I always pray to God to be a good player, but at the same time, I want a life,'' the 26-year-old Beltran said. ``I want to do things that make me happy, go to movies and things like that. When you're famous like A-Rod and Barry Bonds, those players, they can't do that.''
His credentials speak for themselves, though, and suggest his talents are right up there with baseball's more recognizable stars.
Beltran is among six players in baseball history with at least three seasons of 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. Last year, he became the 11th player -- and the first switch-hitter -- to bat over .300 while hitting more than 25 home runs and stealing more than 40 bases.
Soft-spoken, modest and unfailingly courteous, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Beltran could melt unnoticed into just about any crowd. Even in Kansas City, where he has played every season of his five-year major league career.
``I don't expect people out there to know who I am,'' the 26-year-old Beltran said.
During a 21-game turnaround in 2003 that produced Kansas City's first winning campaign in nine years, Beltran had one of the finest seasons ever by a Royals player.
After missing the first 14 games with a minor injury, he led the Royals in batting average (.307), runs (102), home runs (26), RBIs (100), walks (72), and stolen bases (41).
The short list of players who have had a .300 average, 100 RBIs and 40 stolen bases in a single season includes Barry and Bobby Bonds, Joe Morgan, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco -- household names in baseball circles.
But even in his native Puerto Rico, where many kids dream of big-league careers, Beltran remains a relative unknown.
``I like that because I can be in peace,'' he said. ``I've never been to an All-Star game, I've never won a Gold Glove. I've never played in the playoffs. I always start slow. I finish strong, but I always start slow.
In another distinction, Beltran's stolen base percentage of .882 (150-for-170) is the all-time best among players with at least 100 steals.
``If you're not in the All-Star game, then you're not a good player. That's the way most people look at it,'' he said.
Buck O'Neil, the Royals' superscout and 90-year-old walking encyclopedia of baseball history, remembers when he first saw Beltran in 1995 in the Gulf Coast League.
``I immediately thought about the young Willie Mays,'' he said. ``Willie was 17 the first time I saw him. He could do everything. And so can Carlos Beltran. He can hit for average, hit for power, run, catch and throw. He can be as good as he wants to be.''
And that's pretty good. Beltran's goals for this season, his last before becoming eligible for free agency, are far from modest.
``My goal is to try to hit over .307, what I hit last year, and try to hit 30 home runs. And steal a few more bases, and score more than 100 runs. And I want to do well from the beginning, not get off to another slow start.''
If he matches last season, Beltran is sure to be one of the most sought-after free agents, whether fans know who he is or not.
The chances seem scant of him staying in Kansas City, which avoided arbitration by signing him to a one-year, $9 million deal this year.
On the other hand, Beltran does enjoy the Midwestern peace and quiet.
``Right now, I'm not really thinking about it. I just want to have a good season with the Kansas City Royals,'' Beltran said. ``I know this year we have a chance to win our division and be in the playoffs, an experience that I want to have.''
Carlos Beltran May Be Saving His Best For Last: He's Primed For A Big Year But Likely Will Leave KC
By BOB DUTTON
April 4, 2004
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Want to know the biggest problem that Carlos Beltran wrestled with this spring?
Oh, not anything to do with intrusive reporters. These days, Beltran handles their questions as easily as a lazy fly ball to center field.
No, the problem was the satellite TV connection at the house he rented in Surprise. It was on the blink. Not on every TV. Just the downstairs TV.
"So every time I go home," he said, "I've got to go upstairs to watch TV."
Oh, the deprivation.
Even Beltran can't keep a straight face.
"The TV upstairs is a big TV," he admitted. "It's a pretty nice house."
Life is not only good for Carlos Beltran. It's better than ever and getting better all the time.
Carlos Beltran, a five-tool talent on the cusp of stardom, is about to begin what seems certain to be his farewell tour with the Royals. He doesn't run from that reality. Truth is, as fleet as he is, he couldn't if he tried.
At the conclusion of this, his sixth full major-league season, Beltran will become a free agent.
Baseball's economics virtually exclude the Royals, limited by small-market realities, from making a competitive bid to retain the player who might be the best all-round talent in franchise history.
The Royals openly acknowledge this. So does Beltran. Both sides refuse to draw a line in the sand. But they both know this is it.
Beltran left little doubt earlier this spring when he declared he wouldn't accept less money as a free agent to remain with the Royals.
"Would you take less money?" he volleyed back to a reporter. "Me neither."
This was no surprise. Any player who employs Scott Boras as his negotiating weapon wants it understood that financial compensation is the prime directive in any contract discussion.
Even so, Beltran's bald, emphatic rejection even to consider a hometown discount jolted club officials.
"The Royals knew this was coming," a rival general manager said. "Scott Boras doesn't take discounts for his clients. Everybody knows that. That's why Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) wound up in Detroit. You think Pudge wants to play in Detroit after winning the World Series with Florida?
"Pudge is there because the Tigers were the only team willing to meet Scott's price. With Scott and his clients, the dollar is all that counts."
The Royals last made a serious attempt to retain Beltran after the 2002 season. They floated the idea of a three-year contract for $21.2 million and later for $25.3 million. The deal, in effect, sought to buy out Beltran's first year of free-agency.
Boras responded by suggesting a contract ranging from eight to 10 years and averaging between $15 million and $20 million a year. Total value: between $120 million and $200 million.
Oh, and Boras also wanted some guarantee that spending for the club's payroll would climb significantly to ensure the chance of fielding a competitive club.
It was at that point -- big surprise -- the Royals began circulating word that Beltran was available for trade.
There was no shortage of inquiries throughout the off-season and into last spring, although they cooled when Beltran suffered a strained right oblique in mid-March that sidelined him for a month.
When he returned, the Royals already were off to their best start in franchise history. Club officials decided to hold onto Beltran as long as the magic continued, unless they were overwhelmed by an offer.
The Royals remained serious contenders until mid-September. The blockbuster deal never materialized, although several teams, most notably the Dodgers, served up proposals on a regular basis.
Beltran ignored the distractions and put together his most complete season, batting .307 with 102 runs, 26 homers, 100 RBIs and 41 steals in 45 attempts. It was his fourth 100-100 season in five years.
He also became the first player in history to post three straight seasons of 100 or more runs and RBIs along with at least 30 stolen bases.
"This kid is scary," manager Tony Peña said. "There's nothing he can't do. He can be as good as he wants to be and as good as anyone in the game."
Maybe so. But as soon as the season ended, the Royals again began sifting trade possibilities. They knew the Yankees wanted Beltran to replace Bernie Williams in center field and tried to swing a deal for second baseman Alfonso Soriano.
The talks went nowhere because the Yankees knew they likely could outbid everyone for Beltran once he became a free agent. So they signed veteran Kenny Lofton as a stopgap, although they did trade Soriano eventually -- to the Texas Rangers for the American League's reigning Most Valuable Player, a Boras client named Alex Rodriguez.
Here is the cruelest irony for the Royals and their fans.
Carlos Beltran has never been happier, or more optimistic in assessing the club's future.
"I feel good -- really good -- because I feel the team is now looking toward winning," he said. "That's new around here. In the past, unfortunately, they didn't look toward winning here."
The Royals averaged 95 losses in Beltran's first four seasons.
"We used to look toward playing .500," he said. "We used to think that was the best we could do. But this year, we feel we have a good chance to win our division."
For his part, Beltran never has been more primed for the start of a season. He says he is seeing the ball better than ever, thanks to a hitting machine that fires tennis balls with numbers on them.
The purpose of the machine is to train players to do that simplest and most basic of baseball skills: watch the ball.
"The first time I did it," he said, "I couldn't see the numbers. Now that we're doing it every single day, I can see them.
"It's something every hitter should do: Work to train your eyes to track the ball. Because it's so easy to watch the pitcher instead of tracking the ball."
Beltran recalled he was just a rookie up from Class AA Wichita in 1999 when George Brett told him much the same thing.
"He said, Hey, you need to track the ball all the way to the glove,' " Beltran said. " If you do that, you'll stay with the ball more, you'll see the ball better and you won't jump forward.'
"I never really figured that out until now, when I'm tracking the ball with the machine."
It is also a sign of growing maturity in a player who turns 27 later this month.
Beltran and Juan Gonzalez formed a close bond when they began working out together in Puerto Rico shortly after Gonzalez signed a two-year contract in January.
"I've learned a few things about hitting from him," Beltran said. "He's a power hitter, but he also knows about hitting. Watch him and the way he stays inside the ball and hits it the other way.
"Not too many power hitters can hit the ball the opposite way the way he hits it. I always watch him hit and ask him questions about the adjustments he makes."
One day while the two were hitting in Puerto Rico, Gonzalez noticed Beltran pulling his top hand off the bat on right-handed swings.
"When you're working hard together," Gonzalez explained, "you see the little things in other guys that can help them."
Sure. But here's the difference: For years, a small army of managers and hitting coaches pointed out the same flaw. But Gonzalez is a two-time MVP whose resume includes 429 career homers.
Beltran worked to adapt his swing.
"Just watch the two of them together," Peña said. "Juan is good for Carlos. You can see how hungry Carlos is. He's taking charge. And he's happy. That's the main thing."
Boras made sure there was no contract wrangling this past off-season. It took just a couple of calls to negotiate a raise for Beltran from $6 million to $9 million.
Greater riches lie ahead. Much greater.
"The Cardinals just gave Albert Pujols a seven-year deal for $100 million," one general manager said. "That's between $14 million and $15 million a year. Now, Pujols is a terrific hitter, but he's a one-dimensional player who still had three years until he became a free agent.
"So are you asking me whether Beltran can get $18-20 million? Sure he can, if he has a big year."
Not from the Royals.
"I'd like nothing more than to have Carlos on the team for the foreseeable future," owner David Glass said. "The question remains whether or not we can afford him."
Not much of a question, really.
"You might be right," Beltran said. "This might be the last year for me here. I also know this is a business and they will do whatever they think is best for the organization.
"But I will do what is best for me. If I'm back next year, cool. And if not...
"I don't think about it. I don't want to deal with the business part. I let Scott deal with that. I'm just going to enjoy this season and try to win. I'm going to play hard and see what happens.
"And be happy."
Of course. The satellite TV works just fine at his place in Kansas City.