With less than 24 hours remaining in Houston’s ability to sign Carlos Beltran before May 1 (if at all), it is becoming increasing difficult to determine what’s really happening. Newsday’s Jon Heyman seems convinced that Mets have the inside track, though the Yankees might still swoop in with a late bid. The New York Times’ Jack Curry quotes an unnamed executive as saying Beltran is likely to return to Houston, a sentiment echoed by an ESPN report late this evening that had the Astros matching or surpassing the Mets’ offer once the difference in state taxes was calculated.

The NY Post’s Joel Sherman shares the following in Saturday’s edition :

The Mets are believed to have offered Beltran the seven years at $112 million his agent, Scott Boras, said is a bottom line to even negotiate with the center fielder, and they continue to engage in negotiations hoping that is good enough to bag the best free agent available this offseason.

One baseball insider suspected that if tonight’s deadline passes, principal owner Fred Wilpon would be willing to offer up to eight years and $120 million, reasoning, “When you’re talking about that kind of money, what difference does it make?” That person also pointed out that, much like the Yankees with Bernie Williams and Kevin Brown next year, the Mets will have Mike Piazza’s $15 million salary coming off the books after 2005. Thus, Beltran’s $15 million salary could simply replace Piazza’s on the payroll.

Looking for infield support when Jose Reyes suffers his inevitable next injury, the Mets signed former Yankees 2B Miguel Cairo to a one-year deal on Friday. Cairo, who is expected to earn roughly $900,000, hit .292 with 6 homers, 42 RBI’s and 11 stolen bases in 2004.