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Beltran expected to choose team soon

Beltran expected to choose team soon

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Carlos Beltran

A switch-hitter with power, Carlos Beltran will be in the Cardinals' everyday lineup as long as he's healthy. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Cardinals remain in the mix for one of the top free agents still on the market even as they explore alternate ways to address an opening in the outfield.

All-Star Carlos Beltran is expected to select his next team this week, a source familiar with his plans said. The Cardinals have been one of the teams pursuing the switch-hitting outfielder, who has varied offers from five different teams, a source described.

While Beltran deliberates, the Cardinals have explored other options — including free agent outfielder Coco Crisp — that could add a new dimension to their lineup or increased depth to the bench.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who does not comment on individual free agents, described how the club is positioned to boost its offense with playing time available in the outfield and Albert Pujols now an Angel.

"I look at this as an opportunity to add an impact-type player," Mozeliak wrote in an email Tuesday. "But (I) also know this may end up being more of a complementary player."

The market for outfielders has accelerated in the past week as Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham and Jason Kubel all finalized deals. Cuddyer and Willingham received three-year contracts from Colorado and Minnesota, respectively, and Kubel agreed to a two-year deal with Arizona that includes a option for a third.

Mozeliak said he has had "very little dialogue" regarding free agent outfielders in the past few days.

When the Cardinals left the winter meetings this month without Pujols, the club moved onto to other targets, one of whom was Beltran. The Cardinals are interested in adding some sock to a lineup that will be built around Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman in Pujols' absence.

They also need to cover the playing time that Allen Craig, who is earmarked for an increased role in 2012, will miss as he recovers from knee surgery. Craig hopes to be ready in April, though the team is braced for him to return in May.

Beltran, 34, is a former Gold Glove Award winner in center, but multiple knee surgeries eased him toward right field in 2011. He played right field exclusively last summer.

Beltran hit .300 with a .525 slugging percentage and a .385 on-base percentage during a season spent with the Mets and San Francisco.

The Cardinals have explored Beltran's health and ability to play center because when Craig returns the team could use a righthanded option in center to pair with starter Jon Jay. As a switch-hitter, Beltran offers flexibility.

Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that Boston and Toronto are two of the teams that also have interest in Beltran.

A second National League team has also made an offer. Beltran has both two- and three-year offers, the report said.

The Cardinals are a compelling destination, a source familiar with Beltran's opinion said. He would be reunited with Houston teammate Berkman to reform the tandem that nearly upended the pennant-winning Cardinals in the 2004 National League championship series.

Crisp, who turned 32 in November, is a speedy center fielder who also is a switch-hitter and the reigning stolen base champ in the American League.

His agent, Steve Comte, said he has ongoing talks with at least a half dozen teams. The Cardinals are one of the teams to express interest in Crisp.

A source described how Crisp could represent "a Plan B or another direction if something else doesn't work out."

"Things have evolved," Comte said regarding the market for his client. "We can be patient and let the landscape still develop for us. We're going to talk through a number of teams, but the important thing is what to make sure we find the right situation'' for Crisp.

Comte said his client, a California native, is not "fixated" on finding a team out west.

His preference is to land with a contending team and to receive a salary "representative of his value."

Inherent in that description is his goal to get a multi-year deal. Crisp was the Cardinals' seventh-round pick in 1999 and was shipped to Cleveland in 2002 as the player to be named in a deal for pitcher Chuck Finley.

With Oakland in 2011, Crisp's 49 steals led the AL and he hit .264 with a .314 on-base percentage.

Crisp would bring a speed element to the Cardinals' lineup that has been largely absent in recent years. The team signed shortstop Rafael Furcal to a two-year, $14-million deal this month with the plan he'll handle leadoff.

The market has other options that the Cardinals could explore, including Cody Ross and former Cardinal Ryan Ludwick.

Both are righthanded batters who can play center field.

Ross is said to be seeking a two-year deal. Mozeliak left open the possibility with recent comments that the club could look at other positions, including first base, for a lineup boost with Berkman remaining in right field to start the season.

Mozeliak suggested that roster enhancements "can happen 12 months a year," and he has in the past fine-tuned the team during spring training.

When asked Tuesday, the general manager said multi-year commitments were not something the team was trying to avoid.

"Signing players is about value and markets," Mozeliak wrote in an email. "So we are open to fair deals."

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