ST. LOUIS -- The chances of Carlos Beltran returning to the Cardinals dropped from "extremely unlikely" to "not happening" when he didn't accept the club's qualifying offer before Monday's 4 p.m. CT deadline.
Though turning down the offer makes Beltran's departure from St. Louis all but official, he will not be forgotten for turning in two All-Star seasons in St. Louis. He leaves the club on strong terms.
"I made it clear I would love to come back," Beltran said the night the Cardinals lost Game 6 of the World Series. "I understand I'm a veteran and the organization makes its decision based on what makes sense to them. I won't take anything personal if I don't come back to St. Louis."
By not accepting the one-year, 14.1 million qualifying offer, Beltran is saying he believes he can score a better deal. He is seeking a multi-year deal greater than his just-completed two-year, 26 million contract with the Cardinals. According to some reports, the 36-year-old is looking for up to four years.
Any team that signs Beltran will lose a first-round pick in next June's draft. If Beltran signs elsewhere, the Cardinals gain a compensation pick.
While Beltran said repeatedly he welcomes a return to St. Louis, the Cardinals no longer had the same need for the veteran slugger they had two years ago when they brought him aboard shortly after Albert Pujols left for the Angels.
General manager John Mozeliak said last week the Cardinals will likely move Allen Craig to right field on an everyday basis and go with Matt Adams as the regular first baseman. Top prospect Oscar Taveras is another candidate to play right field, though the club hopes he can handle center field.
When looking for a new job, Beltran has said he has two requirements: He wants to play for a contender and he wants to play regularly (and, therefore, be paid like a regular). Though he held up well during his time in St. Louis, Beltran's best opportunity would seem to be with an AL club where he could serve as designated hitter when not playing the outfield. He already has been linked to the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers.
In his two seasons with St. Louis, Beltran hit .282.343.493 with a club-leading 56 homers while playing in 296 games. He also hit a team-best .306 in two trips to the postseason.
A return of Beltran remains possible technically even though he turned down the qualifying offer. Last year, for example, David Ortiz re-signed with the Red Sox for two years even though he did not accept their qualifying offer.
The Cardinals, however, have expressed no interest in going two years. They also covet the draft pick they will receive in compensation if Beltran signs elsewhere.
For good reason. With the pick they gained for losing Pujols, the Cardinals selected Michael Wacha.
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