Carlos Beltrannever wanted to leave Houston a dozen years ago. He was coming off an unforgettable postseason performance, was on the verge of stardom and wanted to be with the Astros for the next seven years.
So the Astros, who had acquired Beltran in a trade with Kansas City midway through the 2004 season, made him a seven-year offer following the season, but were stunned when he signed with the Mets for seven years and $119 million after Houston wouldn't give him a no-trade clause.
On Monday, saying there were no hard feelings against the Astros or the fans who have booed him consistently since he left -- "I don't have [anything] against the Houston fans," he said -- Beltran was re-introduced by the team at Minute Maid Park after signing a one-year, $16 million deal that includes the no-trade clause he coveted 12 years earlier.
"I know it took 12 years to get back to Houston, but at the end of the day, I'm happy when I look around the roster we have, the management and manager and coaches," Beltran said. "It looks like a great group of guys, and we just have to make it work."
Beltran, 39, continues to defy age, and is coming off an All-Star 2016 season split between the Yankees and Rangers; the latter dealt for him at the non-waiver Trade Deadline when the Astros couldn't. He showed he had plenty left in the tank by hitting .295 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs in 151 games, and he provides the Astros with leadership and a middle-of-the-order bat.
"We felt he'd be a great fit here, [that] his offense would balance out our lineup and outfield and would be a positive for us," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We prioritized the players we wanted to go at early this offseason and immediately contacted their representatives and were aggressive throughout, and it paid dividends."
Beltran, who plans to have dinner on Friday with new teammates Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, said that Houston's aggressiveness was a plus. He felt comfortable with both Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, with whom he played in Kansas City.
"First of all, when you become a free agent, you basically lay the groundwork with your agent and look at the options you have out there," Beltran said. "They really made an offer early, faster than any other team. At the same time, I took a look at the roster, and having an opportunity to play against them last year with the Rangers, this team is very, very close to winning and winning for a long time. The fact they were aggressive and went out there and really showed big-time interest, it wasn't that difficult to make to make a decision."
Beltran figures to split at-bats at designated hitter with Evan Gattis while making an adjustment to left field -- he's played only two games at the position in his career. The Astros have plus outfielders George Springer and Josh Reddick in center and right, and the smaller left field at Minute Maid Park won't be as demanding for Beltran.
"I expressed myself to A.J., saying that I would love to be in the outfield here and there," Beltran said. "I think it will keep me in the game, but at the end of the day, I understand A.J. will be the manager, and he will put the best lineup out there to make it work, so he has every day a good, competitive lineup. If I'm a DH and I get the opportunity to play a little left or a little right, I'm fine with that."
The Astros have beefed up their lineup this offseason, adding Beltran, Reddick, catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Norichika Aoki. The team would also like to add some pitching.
"We're always looking for small ways to get better," Hinch said. "It may not be a massive deal, but who knows? [The Winter Meetings] produce a lot of things, but if we don't do anything, we can go to camp with this team and really feel good about it."