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The end is not in sight for Carlos Beltran

TAMPA, Fla. -- Carlos Beltran may be reaching the end of his New York Yankees career, but if it is up to him he is not quite at the end of his time in baseball.

"My goal is to play 20 years," he said in the clubhouse at Steinbrenner Field on Friday afternoon. "I would love to play 20 years in the big leagues. So that means two more years if possible."

Beltran, who will turn 39 in April, is entering the final year of a three-year, $45 million contract with the Yankees, and is not likely to get another one. He is transitioning to the DH portion of his career -- he will play right field for the Yankees in 2016 -- and with Alex Rodriguez under contract for another season, it would appear that position is filled.

But certainly it would appear there will be some team, and perhaps more than one, who could use a bat like Beltran's, as well as a veteran clubhouse presence, somewhere in 2017. That may be why Beltran has not approached this spring training as if it will be his last. He came to camp a little bit lighter than last year -- yes, I know, they all say that -- and on Friday while most of the rest of his team had either left for a game against the Tigers in Lakeland or were looking for an early end to the day, Beltran labored, along with Rodriguez, through a 90-minute conditioning workout following morning batting practice that included a bunch of slogs up and down Mt. Krause in a remote corner of the Yankees training facility.

"I have a responsibility for this year," he said. "For me, all my thoughts are trying to put myself into condition to try to help this team win. At the end of the year, based on how things happen, then, you know, I will make a decision. But right now, physically I feel fine. If I can stay healthy and still contribute at this level, why should I go home?"

Why, indeed? Beltran led all Yankee regulars in batting last year (.276), was third in OPS (.808) and fourth in home runs (19) and RBIs (67). He also appeared in 133 games, 22 more than either Mark Teixeira or Jacoby Ellsbury.

He has been an AL Rookie of the Year, an eight-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and in 2006 finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. His post-season numbers are as good as those of any active player. The only line missing from his resume is the one he felt he might add when he signed with the Yankees before the 2014 season: World Champion.

But even if the Yankees defy the odds and go all the way in 2016, Beltran said he still hungers to come back and play at least one more season after this one.

He is even willing to delay by a year the waiting time for his Hall of Fame candidacy, which should merit serious consideration. In fact, in looking at the numbers, I can't imagine not voting for him considering I voted for Jim Rice, and Beltran's numbers are identical in nearly every respect. He is probably among the top 15 switch-hitters in baseball history. Plus, his post-season numbers -- how about a 1.115 OPS in 52 playoff games -- and 311 stolen bases and an 86 percent success rate on steals boosts him above others who might have a slight edge in other areas.

As does the fact that despite playing through the depths of the steroid era, there has never been a whiff of suspicion that Beltran played anything but clean. I asked him if he had ever been tempted to try PEDs at a time when they were rampant in so many clubhouses.

"Not really," he said. He pointed out that in his rookie season, as a 22-year-old, 190-pound centerfielder, he hit 22 home runs, knocked in 108 runs, scored 112 and batted .293., and more than implied that the opportunity was there if he wanted it.

"But I was like, 'Hey bro, I’m doing something special, so what the hell do I want to do that to my career?," he said. "I didn't feel it was something that I wanted to try because there was no need. I don't think people come up to the big leagues looking to do that, but it was just part of the culture and you always had guys around who would tell you, you get paid for homers, you got to get stronger, you know what I mean? But I continued to (produce) so it was like, who cares, man? Who needs it?"

Beltran may not have needed the help of a chemist but the Yankees certainly will need some help from him this season if they are to improve on their brief return to the playoffs last year. With occasional rest days thanks to the presence of Aaron Hicks to spell him in right, and a few DHH days here and there when A-Rod needs a rest, Beltran believes he can remain fresh throughout the 2016 season, the way he did last year, when he batted .297 and hit 11 of his 19 home runs in August and September.

"I still love to play the game, I love the competition part, I love coming to the ballpark and competing with the younger guys," he said. "I love what I do, man. I still have the passion, I still have the energy, and I feel that if you have that, why should you stop?"