There is a chance that Beltran's Cardinals career ended on Wednesday, with the outfielder standing on deck watching Matt Carpenter go down swinging to seal Boston's World Series-clinching 6-1 win in Game 6. Beltran will wake up a free agent on Thursday, and on Monday, he will officially be on the open market.
"Right now, I'm just going to go home, rest, sleep for a couple weeks and then wait for my agent to call me and then figure out what is the interest and the teams out there," Beltran said. "They know that I made it clear I would love to come back [to the Cardinals]. But we have to see what is in their plans. And I understand. I'm a veteran, and the organization will make a decision based on what makes sense for them. I won't take anything personally if I don't come back to St. Louis."
How seriously the Cardinals entertain pursuing Beltran will depend largely upon two factors. One, the Cards will consider the other pieces already guaranteed to return. Allen Craig and Matt Adams have established themselves as big league players, and if both are to be in the lineup, Craig would be shifting to right field. Top prospect Oscar Taveras is expected to break into St. Louis' outfield next year, too, possibly as early as Opening Day.
Second, the Cardinals will have to see the interest Beltran draws as a free agent. Strong multiyear offers from other clubs -- and he is expected to garner a few -- would likely push the demands to a point the Cards will not match. Their young talent does not make retaining Beltran a necessity.
"I don't know right now," general manager John Mozeliak said Wednesday night when asked if re-signing Beltran was on the organization's offseason to-do list. "Clearly, he has the ability to enter the free-agent market. For us, like I've always said, we're never going to close the door on anything right now. But obviously, we have to start thinking about what next year looks like, what our depth looks like, where we think we need to most add help. But when you start to speak specifically of Carlos, we're just going to keep the door open and see where that will lead."
The first decision the Cardinals will make is whether to make Beltran a one-year qualifying offer of $14.1 million. The organization has five days until that deadline. By making the offer, St. Louis would secure a compensation Draft pick should Beltran turn down the deal and sign elsewhere.
The Cards were able to get two strong years out of the right fielder, who signed a two-year contract with the organization shortly after Albert Pujols' departure. Over two seasons, Beltran hit .282 with 56 homers, 56 doubles and 181 RBIs. He was, however, at his best in October.
Beltran led the Cardinals with 15 RBIs this October and was able to play in the World Series for the first time in his career.
"It was great," Beltran said. "Being able to do what we did this year as a team, from Spring Training working hard to the season and to be able to get to this point, it was just an amazing feeling. I had a blast, not only this year, but last year.
"I think I made a good decision, a good choice to sign with this organization. When I look around, the friendships that I built in this organization, I'm just proud, because all this team did was give me an opportunity to play in the postseason. And as a player, in that decision, that's what you're looking for. You want to have an opportunity to win a World Series. This year, we got here. Last year, we fell short by one game. But I'm satisfied."
Other players spoke openly in recent weeks about their desire to win a ring for Beltran, who quickly became a beloved teammate and leader in the clubhouse. To understand the magnitude of Beltran's impact, one need only listen to them talk about him after Wednesday's loss.
"He's one of the best teammates I've had -- just his ability to communicate and be there for guys," Craig said. "Obviously, his performance on the field speaks for itself, but he's meant a lot to the guys off the field. It's unfortunate we weren't able to get this World Series win for him."
"I gave him a hug, just not knowing what is going to happen," center fielder Jon Jay said. "He's been such a great influence on this team. He, especially for myself, he's been the best. He's been a leader. He is someone who has led by example. You see how hard he works. We've all picked up things from him. We were all pulling for him to get this done."
"That's just another one of those guys that on every level can't ever be replaced," veteran righty Adam Wainwright said. "You can try to replace the performance, you can try to replace the guy in the clubhouse. But the total package, it's real tough to do that with. We've had a real way over the years of being able to replace big-time guys like that, so if we do, in fact, lose Carlos to free agency, we'll find a way to win. That's just the way the Cardinals do ball. But from a total all-around thing, guys like that can't be completely replaced."
"Obviously, you play against the guy and you know he's a great player and a great talent, but you don't really know him personally," left fielder Matt Holliday said. "I think it was a pleasure to get to know him personally and his family, and just to get to know what kind of teammate he is and hopefully will continue to be. He's been a joy to play with, and I hope I get to keep playing with him."