ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The likelihood that Carlos Beltran, who swings the most potent bat in the New York Yankees' offense despite being 39, would be traded increased exponentially about 8:30 a.m. Sunday when the club decided to part ways with Andrew Miller, signaling the beginning of a full-scale sell-off.
With Miller gone less than a week after the Yankees had traded Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees were left with just one closer (Dellin Betances) rather than three, and really just one more attractive tradeable part on their big-league roster: Beltran, who leads the team with a .304 batting average, 22 home runs and 64 RBI.
And the odds that he would still be a Yankee by 4:01 p.m. Monday, when the non-waiver trading deadline passes, seemed to be slimmer than Ronald Torreyes.
So this is how Beltran handled all that pressure: He went out and collected two more hits, including a two-run home run that hastened the departure of Blake Snell, the tough young lefty who started for the Tampa Bay Rays, in the sixth inning.
Although Beltran's blast closed the gap, temporarily, to 3-2, it was predictably not enough; the Rays added two more runs off Michael Pineda in the bottom of the sixth to win the game 5-3 and complete a three-game sweep of the reeling pinstripes at Tropicana Field.
That loss, the fourth in a row for the Yankees after a deceptive run of eight wins in 10 games, all against good teams, also seemed to guarantee that the Yankees would be trade deadline sellers for the first time in the 43-year Steinbrenner era.
Still, it was a relaxed and smiling Beltran who greeted the media following the game, although to be sure, his delayed entry into the clubhouse after most of his teammates had gone raised suspicions that the seemingly inevitable had already happened.
"For me, it’s out of my hands what’s going to happen,” Beltran said. "I know Miller got traded; he’s a great person and we wish him the best. At the end of the day, this is business. I know it’s difficult sometimes when you see a good guy and a good friend leave the team, but at the end of the day, we have a commitment here. I’m not going to think about it.”
Of course, the Yankees media was not going to let him off that easily; Beltran would be forced to think about it, whether he wanted to or not.
“There’s no doubt that they’re trying to add good players to the organization for the future,” he said. "That’s the mentality. It’s business, man. If we were having this conversation during my first six years in the big-leagues, maybe I would answer a little different or give you more. But I’ve been through this type of situation a couple times already, so it is what it is.”
The Yankees are Beltran's sixth team in his 19 big-league seasons, and he is in the final two months of a three-year, $45 million contract. His borderline Hall of Fame career numbers and extraordinary record of postseason performance, as well as his resurgent bat this season, are likely to make him an attractive prospect for any team still in contention, and it is no secret that Beltran would like to add a World Series ring to his collection of accomplishments before he retires.
Still, when asked where he would like to be tomorrow at 4:01 p.m., Beltran said, “I always say that I love it here. I love playing in New York.”
Beltran's contract includes a partial no-trade clause. It blocks trades to 15 big-league clubs but he can be traded to the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals, contenders all, without his consent.
"I can't say anything about that because I don't make the decisions here,” he said.
But he did recognize that by trading Miller, the Yankees might be serious about doing something they have essentially never done: dismantling the core of an entire roster midseason and starting from scratch.
"Now, trading the closer, it’s a message that maybe they’re really serious about rebuilding,” Beltran said. "It’s something that sometimes as an organization you can do. It’s tough, but you have to move on.”
For now, Beltran will move on to Flushing, where the Yankees will play their crosstown rivals, the Mets, another previous Beltran employer, in two games beginning Monday night.
"I know where I'll be tomorrow,” he said. "At Citi Field.”
"In which clubhouse?” he was asked.
Beltran just laughed.
"Whatever happens is going to happen, so I’m not going to think about it,” he said. "Honestly, I’m not going to think about it.”
He'll be too busy hitting.