When Carlos Delgado finally arrives at Shea Stadium, he'll bring a thunderous bat that'll turn the Mets into one of the National League's better run-producers. But Delgado also carries leftover baggage from last year's contentious free agent courtship, during which the first baseman developed a strong dislike for one of GM Omar Minaya's key assistants, Tony Bernazard.
Whether there's leftover animosity remains to be seen. Delgado's agent, David Sloane, said in an e-mail Wednesday afternoon, "We're waiting to see how the Mets want to handle it. No comment until then."
The Mets don't regard the situation lightly, considering Delgado will have the contractual right to demand a trade after the 2006 season. If the club is unable to fulfill that request, Delgado automatically becomes a free agent again in 2007. While the Mets find it hard to believe the slugger would walk away from the $32 million he'd be owed in 2007 and 2008, one Mets official planned to speak directly to Delgado by the end of the day.
"We consider this water under the bridge," is how another Mets executive put it. Indeed, the stakes are different now, as Delgado undoubtedly realizes the Mets, not the Marlins, offer a better path to the postseason. But sooner or later, Delgado will come face to face with Bernazard, a fellow Puerto Rican, and the charges that he levied against him -- specifically, that the Mets overplayed the racial and ethnic connection during their recruitment.
Things got so bad that at last year's winter meetings, Delgado derisively called Bernazard, "the highest paid translator on the planet."
How, exactly, did their relationship disintegrate? According to one person familiar with the dialogue, Bernazard made the mistake of addressing Delgado in "street" Spanish, either unaware or indifferent to the fact that Delgado is intelligent, well-spoken and highly principled.
One two occasions, Delgado had Sloane tell the Mets to keep Bernazard away from the recruitment process -- or as the source put it, "he didn't want to have anything to do with the guy."
Ultimately, Bernazard was forced to the sidelines while Minaya took over. But it was too late at that point. Delgado decided it was a lack of respect that allowed Bernazard to be the Mets' point man, figuring a Spanish-speaker would have a built-in advantage. Delgado drifted towards the Marlins, where Sloane said his client would have a better chance of getting to the World Series. Delgado eventually signed a four-year, $52 million contract, although he was paid only $4 million in 2005.
With the bulk of his fortunes still ahead of him, the Mets are hopeful that Delgado will forget about the crossed signals. The first baseman is joining a team that has a distinctly Latin flavor, where Spanish is the language of choice in the clubhouse. If Delgado still has a problem with that, the Mets think their on-field upgrades will be enough to put Delgado at ease, once and for all.
One other issue lingers, though: what will Delgado do about his pledge to not to stand for the playing of God Bless America? He managed to avoid the spotlight in past years when playing in New York, remaining in the visitors' dugout or clubhouse. That was the case everywhere else, too, although when Delgado was caught on the field between innings -- stranded on the bases, for instance -- he would stand.
Delgado will have to confront the issue more directly now that he's a Met, although the song is played less frequently at Shea than at Yankee Stadium, where it's heard every game during the seventh inning stretch.
Nevertheless, the Mets are understandably looking forward, focusing on the enormous windfall their offense is about to enjoy.
"We finished in third place without Carlos last year, so we can only imagine what the difference would've been if we'd had him," said one Mets official. "We're obviously very excited."
So, how, exactly, do the Mets afford this sudden swelling of the payroll? Actually, they still project somewhere in the low-$100 million range, with nearly $35 million coming off the books this winter. That will allow the Mets to continue their pursuit of Billy Wagner, to whom they've extended a three-year offer worth approximately $30 million with an option for a fourth year that makes the deal worth $40 million.
Although Wagner has hinted that he'll need a guaranteed fourth year to justify leaving the Phillies, the Mets are structuring their current offer so the fourth is practically written in stone. One person familiar with the offer says, "only a major injury" would keep Wagner from reaching his performance roll-over, effectively protecting the club and the closer.
Wagner also said he wants to get to the World Series, which is the holy grail for every free agent. The Mets think they have the Phillies trumped in that area, too.
"With Carlos coming, we think Billy will want to come here, too," is how one Mets official happily put it.
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.