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Fast start to free agency for Beltran

Carlos Beltran got off to a fast start in the free agent market, too.

After hitting eight home runs for the Houston Astros to tie the postseason record, the speedy center fielder was among 65 players who filed for free agency yesterday on the first possible day.

Acquired during the season from Kansas City, Beltran has said he would consider re-signing with the Astros if they keep the core of the team together.

"I experienced being on a team where they don't do anything to help the ball club," said Beltran, who may get the biggest deal of the offseason. "One of my priorities if I stay with this ball club will be keeping the young guys. Our young players have potential to be real good."

The Astros exercised Craig Biggio's $3 million option. They declined Jeff Kent's $9 million option and will pay the second baseman a $700,000 buyout.

However, general manager Gerry Hunsicker said the team "made it clear to him that we had interest in sitting down with him and bringing him back under another contract scenario."

Mets eyeing Ramirez?
The Mets reportedly have an eye for Manny Ramirez. According to Newsday, new Mets GM Omar Minaya has the World Series MVP at the top of his list of options to wake the dormant New York offense. But a Red Sox executive told Newsday the chances of the team dealing Ramirez are "pretty unlikely." Plan B may be Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, a much more likely candidate for a trade. After several storybook seasons in Chicago, Sosa and the Cubs appear headed for a bitter breakup. Sosa's salary could be an issue, however; he'd come with a two-year, $39.5 million commitment . . . Frank Thomas is returning to the White Sox, but Magglio Ordonez appears to be headed elsewhere. While Thomas exercised his $8 million option, Ordonez filed for free agency, and general manager Ken Williams said he is not optimistic about being able to re-sign the right fielder. "From what I've heard, it doesn't give me any reason to have any optimism," Williams said. The four-time All-Star played only 52 games this year, his fewest since he was a late-season call-up in 1997. Another White Sox outfielder, Carl Everett, exercised his $4 million option. The White Sox also exercised a $2.5 million option on closer Shingo Takatsu and declined their $1 million option on catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. . . . Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who led the major leagues with 48 home runs, filed for free agency, along with Dodgers outfielder Steve Finley. Beltre had arthroscopic surgery yesterday to remove two large bone spurs from his left ankle. Also filing were Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado, Minnesota righthander Brad Radke, and Philadelphia righthander Kevin Millwood. Cardinals righthander Chris Carpenter, sidelined since mid-September because of nerve damage in his right biceps, filed conditionally. St. Louis must decide whether to exercise a $2 million option for 2005 . . . The Cubs declined an $11.5 million mutual option on outfielder Moises Alou, choosing to pay a $2.5 million buyout, and declined a $2.5 million option on second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, paying him a $250,000 buyout . . . The Rockies and Jeromy Burnitz both declined his $3 million mutual option . . . The Indians signed righthander Scott Elarton, who was eligible for free agency, to a one-year $850,000 contract.

Chair-throwing charge lessened
Rangers reliever Frank Francisco will face a misdemeanor assault charge rather than a felony for breaking a woman's nose when he threw a chair into the stands during a game at Oakland. "He has no record. He threw a plastic chair. It's not a gun. It's not a knife," Alameda County Senior Deputy District Attorney Norbert Chu said, explaining his decision. While Francisco still faces a maximum three years' probation and one year in county jail, if convicted, he escaped the three years in state prison connected to a felony conviction. Francisco threw the chair into the right-field box seats and hit two spectators in the head during a Rangers-Athletics game Sept. 13 . . . Longtime Cubs announcer Steve Stone said he is leaving WGN-TV, less than a month after coming under fire for on-air comments he made criticizing the team . . . Wally Backman withdrew from consideration to become manager of the Mets in order to concentrate on the same vacancy with the Diamondbacks. Backman canceled his scheduled interview with Minaya after he had a second meeting with Diamondbacks officials yesterday . . . In his first moves as manager of the Mariners, Mike Hargrove retained pitching coach Bryan Price and hired Ron Hassey as bench coach.

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