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Beltran investment pays off
10/05/2004 7:54 PM ET
ATLANTA -- Real estate agents insist that renting is a poor investment. Try telling that to the Houston Astros.

Their midseason rental, center fielder Carlos Beltran, came courtesy of the cost-cutting Kansas City Royals. Houston had to give up shaky closer Octavio Dotel and cash in the three-team trade, but the payoff was worth it.

In 90 games after the trade, Beltran batted .258 with 23 home runs, 53 RBIs, 70 runs scored and was a perfect 28-for-28 in stolen-base attempts. In September, Beltran led the team with 22 runs scored and helped Houston score an improbable trip to the postseason.

He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't curse. But on the diamond, he does everything.

"I like Beltran a lot," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who has a pretty good center fielder in Andruw Jones. "He's a terrific outfielder. He runs great, he can steal bases, he seldom gets thrown out. He's a switch-hitter with power.

"He's going to be a good-looking free agent out there for a lot of teams. No doubt about that."

And there's the rub.

In an all-or-nothing quest to get to the postseason after paying top dollar for free agents Roger Clemens (the team's Game 1 starter) and Andy Pettitte, the Astros acquired the 26-year-old Beltran knowing his tenure could be a brief one.

Beltran and the Dodgers' Adrian Beltre will be among the most highly coveted -- and perhaps the most highly paid -- players on this winter's free-agent market. Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, can expect to hear from a number of clubs, including the Astros.

Astros fans are making their feelings public. During the team's clinching game against the Rockies on Sunday, television cameras caught a shot of a sign that bore Beltran's picture and the words: "Beltran for center field. Four more years."

Does the happy ending to the regular season give Houston any kind of edge?

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"I don't know what is going to happen," Beltran said. "With this team, there are a lot of guys who are going to be free agents. It will be probably a different ballclub, so I want to talk to the owner. But yeah, this is a team I will really consider. I'll consider every single ballclub that has interest in me and I will pick the one that has the best opportunity to win."

That was not always the case.

"I've got to say this: If I wouldn't have been traded to the National League, it would have been difficult for me to consider [signing with] a team in the National League," Beltran said. "Now, I can choose a team from either league because I feel like I did a pretty good job. I was adjusting every day. I feel like I did a good job."

In 159 games with Kansas City and Houston, Beltran batted .267 with 38 home runs, 104 RBIs, 42 stolen bases and scored a whopping 121 runs.

He was the National League Player of the Week for Aug. 23-29 and was the AL player of the week earlier in the season. If you combine his stats from both leagues, he fell two home runs shy of being baseball's fourth 40-homer, 40-stolen base man, and he established career highs in homers, runs scored and walks.

Those numbers are about to add up to a big payday.

"I just want to wait until the season is over to see what is going to happen," Beltran said after taking some light batting practice at a Tuesday workout at Turner Field. "I think it will be easy. I think every player looks for a place where he wants to play on a team that can really win. I played with Kansas City for so many years and never had a chance. After these playoffs, I'm going to take my time and I'm going to do my best to choose."

One of those pending free agents is Clemens, whose 2005 status is a question mark.

"He's one of four or five guys that I've said I've had the fortune to play with over my career, that when they hit a ball, it just sounds so different off their bat," Clemens said of Beltran. "If you stand around the cage, whether it be batting practice, or you have the opportunity to hear it in a game, it's different."

For now, Beltran, Clemens and the Astros are focused on beating the Braves.

"As a player, you want to be in a situation like this where you get to the playoffs," Beltran said. "It's been a great season."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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