<
>

With $119 million deal comes stadium tour

NEW YORK -- In the end, timing and tenacity played key roles
in Carlos Beltran signing with the wannabe New York Mets instead of
the perennial champion New York Yankees.

A no-trade clause in the seven-year, $119 million contract, a
recruiting trip to Puerto Rico by team brass, and 31 consecutive
days of phone calls didn't hurt, either.

Beltran was welcomed by his new team Tuesday, ending a whirlwind
courtship that began as a long-shot flirtation and evolved into the
richest deal in Mets history. Already he was looking ahead, talking
about a recruiting call he already placed to Carlos Delgado.

For the 27-year-old center fielder, the contract was all about commitment.

"When I was in Kansas City, I was always worried about being
traded for five years," he said. "When I was traded to Houston,
it was not a good feeling. I didn't want to go through that
anymore. I would not sign without a no-trade clause. I was looking
for stability. The Mets said they would give me that stability."

And they said it over and over and over again.

When general manager Omar Minaya decided the Mets had a shot at
Beltran, the team went after him aggressively.

"Starting at Thanksgiving, they called me 31 straight days,"
agent Scott Boras said. "They checked in every day, asking where
Carlos was at [in his thinking], saying they wanted Carlos. I would
tell Carlos every day, 'The Mets called again.' And again. And again."

Beltran was impressed. Then came the visit.

Boras suggested the two sides meet in Miami. Minaya, fresh off
his successful recruiting trip to the Dominican Republic where he
charmed pitcher Pedro Martinez with Thanksgiving dinner, said the
Mets would travel to San Juan to see Beltran on his home turf.

"If we are involved, we are involved to win," Minaya said. "I
sensed when we got there we would be players, maybe underdogs. But
I like being the underdog."

Beltran said the Mets' signing of Martinez impressed him. And he
hoped his signing would have a similar effect on first baseman
Delgado, another Mets' target.

Beltran was wowed by the visit, especially the sincerity of Mets
owner Fred Wilpon.

"He told me, 'If you're happy in Houston, stay in Houston,' "
Beltran said. " 'If you want the big stage, come to New York. Sign
with the Yankees or sign with us.' He gave me options. He showed me
the kind of person he is."

With the addition of Beltran, Mike Cameron
might be shifted to right field if he isn't traded. Cameron will
miss the start of the season and possibly all of April after
surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his left wrist.

The Yankees seemed an obvious fit for Beltran, especially with
their history of usually landing the biggest free agents. They were
players in the Beltran derby, but Boras said their first issue was
pitching and nailing down their deal for Randy Johnson, which they
announced three hours after the Mets introduced Beltran in a unique
New York baseball news conference doubleheader.

"The Yankees were interested," Beltran said. "But they wanted
to wait to make a decision. I was not willing to wait to find a
team. I wanted a commitment. The Mets were willing to do that."

Part of the timing issue was a change in federal tax laws which
takes effect on Wednesday. By completing his deal Tuesday, Beltran
saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes on his $11 million
signing bonus, according to Boras.

Beltran's deal calls for $7 million of the signing bonus to be
paid upon approval of the contract by the commissioner's office and
$2 million in January 2006 and $2 million in January 2007. He gets a $10
million salary this year, $12 million in each of the following two
seasons and $18.5 million in each of the final four years of the
deal. In each of the final four seasons, $8.5 million will be deferred at 1.17 percent compounded interest.

Beltran's contract, the 10th in baseball history worth $100
million or more, also calls for a $500,000 bonus if he wins the MVP
award, $1 million if he wins it a second time and $1.5 million for
every time he wins it after that.

He is the only player in baseball history to have four straight
seasons of 20 or more home runs, 100 or more runs scored, 100 or
more RBI and 30 or more stolen bases. He batted .267 with 38
homers and 108 RBI with Kansas City and Houston last season, and
hit .435 with eight homers and 14 RBI in the postseason with the Astros.

Minaya and Boras seemed relieved after marathon talks Saturday
and Sunday concluded with Beltran agreeing to join the Mets.

"It's like frogs on a lily pad," Boras said. "You don't want
to end up at the bottom of the lake. You want to wind up on the
lily pad."

And Beltran's lily pad came complete with a $119 million contract.

First-round pick signs
The Mets agreed to a five-year contract with their first-round pick Philip Humber, the third pick in the 2004 draft. The right-handed pitcher from Rice
got a $3.7 million package as is expected at Mets minicamp
in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Wednesday and Thursday. He went 13-4
with a save and a 2.27 ERA in 20 games with the Owls last season.
He gave up 87 hits and 34 runs while striking out 154 in 115
innings.