K.C. seeks to fill void

? The day after the Kansas City Royals traded one of the finest players they ever developed, a handwritten message brought tears to manager Tony Pena.

Carlos Beltran, as he left the clubhouse for Houston, placed the note in Pena’s office where he knew Pena would find it.

“He just said, ‘Thanks for everything,”‘ Pena said. “‘For your help, and for the friendship. With all my heart, you are the best manager I ever played for. God bless you and your family.'”

It was, Pena said, “Tough. Very tough.”

“Everybody wanted Carlos to stay here. I want Carlos to stay here,” Pena said. “The front office wanted Carlos to stay here, but sometimes it is out of our hands, and it is tough to deal with.”

Knowing they could not — or would not — give Beltran the huge contract he would demand next year on the free-agent market, the Royals sent him to Houston Thursday in a three-team deal that brought third baseman Mark Teahen, pitcher Mike Wood and catcher John Buck to Kansas City.

Beltran and his wife were having dinner at Mike Sweeney’s house when general manager Allard Baird called him Thursday night with the news.

“He gave us all hugs,” said Sweeney, the Royals’ captain and first baseman. “Carlos is a great man.”

Beltran, the AL player of the month for April, was leading the Royals with 15 home runs, 51 RBIs and 14 stolen bases and will be the biggest catch in next year’s free-agent market.

“Yeah, we’re going to miss him,” Sweeney said. “Right now, there’s a big hole in our clubhouse. Houston is going to fall in love with him, not only as a baseball player, but as people.”

Buck started at catcher against St. Louis on Friday night in his major-league debut. The Royals plan to put Wood into the rotation immediately.

Replacing Beltran in center field is David DeJesus, who was brought up from Triple-A Omaha where he was sent after going 1-for-23 in 11 big-league games in April.

“It is a very, very tough thing for this kid to step in and replace the type of player Carlos Beltran is,” Pena said. “He is our best player in the minor leagues. We prepared him to play center field every single day.

“This is what I said to him: ‘Just be yourself, just go out and play your game.'”

Baird generally is getting high marks for the trade, especially considering that everyone in baseball knew he was under great pressure to unload Beltran.

The Royals last offered the smooth switch-hitter a contract “two Decembers ago,” said Baird.

“We offered him a three-year deal, and then had conversations with his agent, Scott Boras. From what they desired, it was not even close,” Baird said.

“When things get to the extreme and you cannot make a deal, we can go ahead and make a nice offer that satisfies, I guess, newspapers and fans and that kind of stuff. But we’re lying to people.

“Bottom line, this was way out of our reach. Way out of our reach. Quite frankly, out of a lot of teams’ reaches.”

Pena did not try to pretend the Royals had strengthened themselves. They went into Friday night’s game with a 28-41 record, last in the AL Central.

“It’s very tough for me to say if you’re going to improve the team … when you trade your best player and one of the best players in baseball,” Pena said. “I think we improved getting young players for our organization. I think we improved for the future if they turn into players they should be.”

Utility man Desi Relaford agreed the Royals had exacted a steep price for one of the game’s finest talents.

But are the Royals now a better team?

“Oh, come on,” Relaford said.