Before Sandy Alderson closed out his deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, he made one last round of calls to other teams, diligently checking to see which team would give him the best financial deal in the salary dump of Francisco Rodriguez. He would've loved 50 cents on the dollar, but in the end, he wound up getting about 40 cents on the dollar from the Brewers, in order to run out from underneath the onerous $17.5 million contract option that scared everyone.
But the Mets are giving off a very different vibe in their early discussions about Carlos Beltran, according to sources. The Mets believe they have the best available outfielder in a mediocre market for offensive players and are aiming to land a top prospect -- and they have indicated that they will keep the slugger until they get exactly what they want.
It remains to be seen if the Mets' strategy can pay off, or if their early pre-trade deadline stance on Beltran will change. And as they begin to get deeper into discussions with the six or seven teams that have expressed serious interest, a major hurdle will be how much of the money still owed to Beltran -- about $8 million, at this point -- will be paid off by the Mets.
But the Mets fully intend to get a prime prospect for Beltran and believe that some team in need of an upgrade will eventually submit to their demands because of Beltran's potential to impact a lineup.
To review, Beltran's first-half numbers: .285 batting average, .377 on-base percentage, .503 slugging average. He has played in 89 games this year, eliminating doubts about whether he can hold up in 2011, and rival executives know that he is eligible for free agency in the fall and has every reason to thrive and remain in the everyday lineup. Beltran is hitting .337 with runners in scoring position and has a 1.020 OPS in those situations, which ranks 13th in the majors.
The Giants would love to have him. He could help the Red Sox, although some executives wonder how Boston would fit him into its payroll without paying the luxury tax the team's owners work to avoid. The Yankees are not interested, but perhaps the Tigers are, and they have always been known to be more aggressive than most teams and not shy about taking on a big contract. Beltran could provide for the Rays the kind of offense they had hoped to get out of Manny Ramirez. The Indians aren't limiting themselves to small-budget options, and if the Braves got serious about Beltran, they'd be in position to offer a wider range of pitching prospects than any other team (and the fact that Alderson was willing to deal K-Rod to the Yankees tells you he's not concerned about dealing his assets to perceived rivals, if he thinks the trade works well for his side.)
Beltran would fit the Pirates; heck, the way he's playing, he'd fit almost any team.
And this is why the Mets have let it be known to other teams: Beltran will cost you, and if you don't want to say yes to our demands, we believe some other team will, and we will wait for that moment.
The Giants owe it to their fan base to go after Beltran, writes Tim Kawakami.
Alderson insists the Mets are not waving the white flag, writes Peter Botte.
• Wrote last week about how the Brewers are looking for an infielder, and now that will be their focus in the aftermath of the K-Rod trade; Doug Melvin tells Tom Haudricourt he has talked to the reliever, and found him excited about joining the Brewers. The Brewers will have to start winning on the road.
The former agent for Francisco Rodriguez, Paul Kinzer, never submitted a list of teams to which the closer could be traded, reports David Waldstein.
• The Rays may keep B.J. Upton; they may trade him. But he has been augmenting his standing in the market with his recent burst of offense after making an adjustment with his stride foot -- Upton is hitting .387 in July, with a .710 slugging percentage, and while his home games are played in Tropicana Field, he's batting .292, with a .372 on-base percentage, in road games.
If the Rays were to trade Upton, they'd want to replace the offense that he brings to the team, given their standing in the AL East race, and Colby Rasmus perfectly fits the model of what Tampa Bay tends to look for: Strong offensive production relative to his position; good defense; athletic; and, for now, relatively cheap.
For the Cardinals, Rasmus is perplexing, given his recent numbers and his inconsistency, writes Bernie Miklasz.
A very interesting question is this: How did word of the Cardinals' willingness to trade Rasmus leak out? I think the answer would help define the depth of unhappiness with Rasmus.
The Cardinals have some needs they'd like to address before the trade deadline, writes Derrick Goold.
• Keep in mind: The numbers are stacked up against the Rays in the second half.
Moves, deals and decisions
3. The Braves' players like their chances, regardless of whether the team makes trades.
5. The Marlins are closing their upper deck.
Dings and dents
1. A healthy pitching staff is Boston's second-half goal, writes Tim Britton.
• From Elias: Each of the four teams that played in the League Championship Series last year -- the Giants, Phillies, Rangers and Yankees -- is at least 10 games above .500 in 2011. It's only the third time since the multi-round playoff format began in 1969 that every one of the final four teams from the previous season was 10-or-more games above .500 at the All-Star break. That also happened in 1992 (Twins, Blue Jays, Braves and Pirates) and 2002 (Diamondbacks, Braves, Yankees and Mariners).
• A trial over a road rage incident involving the wife of a player has been set.
• Here are five questions facing the Orioles in the second half, from Dan Connolly.
• The Phillies fought through obstacles in the first half.
• The Oakland pitching has shined, but there have been other problems.
• The commissioner agrees with Jim Leyland about the umpires, writes John Lowe.
There are steps to be taken: Meaningful warnings about conduct and then hard discipline -- suspensions, possible loss of employment -- for subsequent transgressions.
If you want the problem fixed -- if you want the behavior altered -- then the steps should be taken. Otherwise, everybody should stop complaining and move on and acknowledge that baseball doesn't mind its share of umpire-manager rhubarbs.
And today will be better than yesterday.