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After making a further two years' commitment to Randy Johnson, there's speculation that the Yankees will not attempt to outbid the Mets or Astros for the services of OF Carlos Beltran. Let's select the five most intriguing stories of the off-season. In this opinion, they 0,2777,drmn_23922_4908082,00.html would be the Mets' signing of Pedro Martínez, Boston's signing of David Wells 0,2777,drmn_23922_4908082,00.html, the Yankees' acquisition of Randy Johnson, Oakland's trades of Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, and Washington's attempt to lose the Expos before it had them. But if a weekend signal is accurate, the most intriguing story has yet to happen. If it does happen, it will be a nonmove, as opposed to the Martínez, Wells, Johnson, [0,2777,drmn_23922_4908082,00.html] Hudson and Mulder moves. The nonmove? The Yankees will not sign Carlos Beltran, the most attractive, and expensive, position player on the free-agent market. But it's not just that the Yankees will not be signing Beltran. The story would be that the Yankees will not even try to sign him. That was the surprising signal from a baseball official over the weekend. The official, who is in a position to hear such things, heard last week that the Yankees did not plan to pursue Beltran. "Someone told me the other day, if they get Johnson they wouldn't go after Beltran, " the official, who refused to be named, said. "Even the Yankees have to have a limit. " No one has ever accused George Steinbrenner of having a payroll limit. What an awful thing to say about the freest-spending owner in the Western world. Sure, once in a while Brian Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, mutters something about a budget, and he tries to sound sincere. 0, 2777, DRMN_23922_4908082, 00.html the yankees, like all teams, are also required to submit a budget to the commissioner's office, which they have done for this year. But just like records, budgets are meant to be broken. Beltran's becoming a victim of a Yankees budget wouldn't simply be the most intriguing story of this off-season; it would be the most stunning development in years. It would also crush Scott Boras, Beltran's agent, who is counting not only on the Yankees' interest but also on what would be a rare instance of the Yankees and the Mets directly competing for a player. To have the Yankees yank their interest, just when the Mets are heating up theirs, would be a cruel trick to play on Boras. But then some clubs say Boras has been a cruel trick that has been played on them for years. Steinbrenner could be lured into competing for Beltran because of his hitting, fielding and base-running talents - or because the Mets want him. Historically, when the Mets have done something major, Steinbrenner has tried to counter with a major move. When the Mets signed Martínez last month, the Yankees intensified their efforts to acquire Johnson. If the Mets were to sign Beltran, the Yankees would probably be left without a major move as retaliation. So the more spirited an effort the Mets make for Beltran, the more tempted Steinbrenner may be to ignore his advisers and go after Beltran himself.


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