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“Once Buster went down, I thought we were dead in the water to have the chance to replace him,” Sabean said. “Carlos has the chance to do that.”

Beltran was fully aware he would likely be trade bait in the final year of a $119 million deal he signed with the Mets before the 2005 season. He was plagued by knee injuries the past two seasons, but has been healthy this year and is enjoying a strong comeback season.

Once the teams agreed to terms, Beltran had 24 hours to decide whether to waive his no-trade clause. Shortly before New York’s 8-2 win at Cincinnati on Wednesday night, he arrived in the clubhouse and told his teammates he was on his way to Philadelphia to join the Giants.

While parting with Wheeler was a tough call, Sabean and his staff weighed dealing a pitcher or a top position player. Wheeler wasn’t going to be in the mix at the major league level for a while.

Beltran will be an instant upgrade to a sagging offense. The Giants were batting .241 with 66 homers and 373 runs, all numbers that ranked toward the bottom of the NL.

No player on the San Francisco roster had more than nine homers. Aubrey Huff was leading the team with 47 RBIs.

Carlos is the player that we coveted all along,” Sabean said. “As we knew what the price of doing business was there, it became apparent no matter where we turned we were going to take a hit on our prospect list.”

That worked out for New York, which has overcome some key injuries to remain around .500 for weeks. But the Mets, who began the day 7 1/2 games out in the NL wild-card race, are looking toward the future.

“We also felt that for the long-term benefit of the organization that we needed to do something,” Alderson said.

“In baseball, your currency is your young player development system,” he added. “It’s not often a team has access to a player who was drafted No. 5, 6, 7. … We’re very fortunate to be able to add him to our system.”

It marks the second major trade this month for the financially troubled Mets, who dealt closer Francisco Rodriguez to Milwaukee after the All-Star game.

Alderson acknowledged that the Mets saved about $5 million by making the two deals, but credited ownership for being more committed to adding young talent than saving money as the team fielded offers.

“Zack was the guy that we focused on,” Alderson said. “This is the kind of deal that we had hoped to be able to make at the outset, and when it materialized we didn’t have any problem pulling the trigger.”

However, Alderson said the club plans to keep star shortstop Jose Reyes for the rest of the season and then engage in contract discussions in the fall. Reyes also can become a free agent after the season.

In fact, Alderson said he doesn’t expect to make any more significant trades before Sunday’s non-waiver deadline unless “something extraordinary” becomes available. He wants to see what the remaining Mets can do the rest of the way.

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