The Angels' pursuit of center fielder Carlos Beltran faces a curious wrinkle: How much more -- if at all -- should he be paid than right fielder Vladimir Guerrero?
The Angels signed Guerrero to the most lucrative contract in free agency last winter, at five years and $70 million. As the Angels await the Nov. 16 announcement of whether he will win the American League most-valuable-player award, General Manager Bill Stoneman said Guerrero's contract might represent fair market value for the top players available in free agency this winter.
"Guerrero is probably a barometer for a lot of clubs," Stoneman said. "He's absolutely one of the best."
The Angels, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros are expected to be among the top bidders for Beltran, who is believed to be seeking a 10-year contract worth as much as $20 million a year.
Scott Boras, the agent for Beltran, declined to discuss an asking price but cited the precedents of Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $252 million), Derek Jeter (10 years, $189 million) and Todd Helton (nine years, $142 million).
"The market is very aggressive," Boras said. "There's a lot of teams ready to make substantial offers of that nature to Beltran."
Rodriguez, Jeter and Helton all signed their contracts during the 2000-01 off-season. Boras said annual major league revenues have risen from $3 billion to $4 billion since then, so contracts for elite young talent ought to rise as well.
However, no free agent last winter signed for longer than six years (Miguel Tejada) or for an average annual salary greater than Guerrero's $14 million, although the free-spending Yankees did not bid on either player and Guerrero was coming off a season interrupted by a back injury.
Guerrero, 28, hit .337 last season, with 39 home runs, 126 runs batted in and 15 stolen bases. Beltran, 27, considered a better defensive player, hit .267 with 38 home runs, 104 runs batted in and 42 stolen bases.
Stoneman would not address Beltran specifically but suggested the Angels -- and many other clubs -- would have no interest in a 10-year contract.
"That's a very risky proposition," Stoneman said. "You don't want to get caught doing something that comes back to haunt you.
"In general terms, the trend in this business has been to try to pare back the risk. Contracts seem like they're getting a little bit shorter as well as getting a little lower in terms of dollar value."
If the Angels do not sign Beltran, they could move Chone Figgins to center field and David Eckstein to second base, replacing the injured Adam Kennedy, then sign a free-agent shortstop from a pool headed by Orlando Cabrera, Nomar Garciaparra and Edgar Renteria.
"I'm sure we'll be talking with some of them," Stoneman said.