UPDATE: Would Rays and Beltran have been a good match?
UPDATE, 10:57: Beltran indeed agreed to a deal with the Cardinals, getting $26-million over two years. So in the end, the Rays wouldn't have been there financially anyway.
UPDATE, 3:49: The Rays interest in Beltran may have been overstated, at least recently as final negotiations heated up, as the issues of Beltran playing on turf and having at least some DH duties were significant hurdles, even before the financial aspects. St. Louis appears the likely destination.
UPDATE, 3:04: The Rays reportedly are out of the running for Beltran, as both Scott Miller of CBS Sports and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports just reported that the field has been narrowed to the Cardinals, Blue Jays and Indians. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Cardinals are "the leading candidate.''
BREAKING: The Rays' interest in signing free-agent OF Carlos Beltran is legitimate, and has been confirmed.
As for their chances of actually getting him, that remains to be seen, with Beltran's decision reportedly close.
One issue, of course, is the competition, a crowded field of intriguing options that, according to Scott Miller of CBS Sports, includes at least the Cardinals, Jays, Red Sox and Indians.
Another is the money, as Beltran reportedly seeks a two- or three-year deal at $12-13-million per.
So how realistic is the Rays' pursuit?
It depends what criteria Beltran, and agent Dan Lozano (who reps Albert Pujols among others), want to prioritize. And how convinced the Rays are that Beltran is the right fit.
Beltran is a switch-hitter coming off a solid, All-Star season in which he hit a combined .300, with a .385 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage (.910 OPS) for the Mets and Giants, posting 22 homers and 84 RBIs in 142 games. And he has a career .361 on-base percentage.
Those are all reasons that would make him appealing to the Rays, who could put him in the middle of their order and use him as both a DH and to rotate through the outfield (or to free up another outfielder to be traded - further fueling B.J. Upton rumors).
But also, he will turn 35 next season, has had some injury issues (specifically with right knee, resulting in Jan. 2010 surgery) that have prevented him from playing a full season since 2008, and hasn't had much experience in the DH role (just 39 of his career 1,768 games).
Those are all reasons that would make him concerning to the Rays, who certainly would have learned from the failed Pat Burrell experience of 2009-10.
Could the Rays afford Beltran?
They are unlikely, of course, to be the top bidder. But the payroll has some room to grow this season, and they certainly could off-set a chunk of what they would pay Beltran if they traded one of their two highest salaried players - Upton (likely to make around $7-million through arbitration) or RHP James Shields ($8-million). Another option would be to use money allocated to the DH and 1B slots (as well as one of the other starters, such as Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann) for Beltran and fill first base with a minimum-salaried young player (such as trading for San Diego's Anthony Rizzo).
Would Beltran want to come to the Rays? Much has been speculated in various reports as to what is most important to him - that (coming off a 7-year, $119-million deal, which included $18.5-million salary in 2011) he would consider a lower offer if the fit was right, that he wants to be close to his home in Puerto Rico, that artificial turf could be a concern, how much he wants to DH (or not), even the quality of the medical staff.
Many of those issues bode well for the Rays - their success and clubhouse atmosphere are appealing to many players, the location is obviously good, the Rays athletic training staff is considered one of the game's best. The turf and the DH issue, however, could be concerns.
The handicapping of this has been interesting in the national media, with the Cardinals the perceived favorites. But a case can be made for any of the teams. The good news is that an answer is expected in the next few days.