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Thursday, February 13
Updated: March 14, 5:06 PM ET
Cone rejoins Mets on minor-league deal

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- David Cone decided to give it one more try.

Out of baseball last year, the 40-year-old pitcher will attempt a comeback with the New York Mets, signing a minor league contract Thursday.

I'm glad for David Cone. As a former pitcher, I know how age or injuries can make you start doubting yourself. But he's a competitor, and that's exactly the type of guy you want taking the ball every five days.

He won't be in his Cy Young form, certainly, but he's so gritty -- and he's a winner. You can never discount a guy like David Cone or Orel Hershiser. His veteran presence could be a big bonus on the Mets' staff. And I absolutely see him making the Mets' roster.

I bumped into Cone at the mall over the Christmas holidays. He didn't mention anything about a comeback, but he looked to be in great shape. No one is a tougher critic of an athlete than the athlete himself. He knows better than anyone how he's feeling, what his stuff is like or what his bat speed is.

I can empathize with Cone's desire to return to the game. I thought about un-retiring several times after 1999, my last year in the majors. I went to spring training with the Angels in 2000 after having knee surgery, but the physical challenge proved to be too much.

It isn't necessarily tougher for a pitcher to return from retirement than a position player. Playing every day takes a tremendous toll over the course of a season. For a starting pitcher, you gear up for your start, which is taxing, but then you have time to recuperate. So it's a tradeoff.

If there's a pitcher who can come back after a year off, it's Cone. He won't be asked to shoulder a lot of innings. But I believe he can still deliver a quality start and turn it over to the bullpen.

The right-hander last pitched in 2001, going 9-7 with a 4.31 ERA in 25 starts for Boston. Cone worked as an analyst for the New York Yankees' YES network last season and had been expected to do so again.

"My gut feeling is that I'll probably retire at this point,'' Cone said in late January while visiting the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, Fla.

But after a lot of lobbying from Mets lefty Al Leiter -- and the possibility of winning a spot as the No. 5 starter -- Cone chose to give it a shot. He would get a $550,000, one-year contract if he makes the team and the chance to earn $200,000 more in performance bonuses.

Cone, who rose to prominence with the Mets in the late 1980s, was expected to join pitchers and catchers Friday at spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

"When you talk to a guy who's pitched as long as David and talk about getting hitters out, competing and working on a major league mound, you certainly saw his enthusiasm for wanting to give it another shot,'' Leiter said Thursday,

"I just told him the same thing I told him last year. I told him it would be a good thing and that a lot of his success was here,'' he said. "He's good, he's a good clubhouse guy, he's smart, a veteran player who knows how to win. Absolutely he can help.''

Leiter, Tom Glavine, Pedro Astacio and Steve Trachsel hold down the first four spots in the rotation. Cone will compete with Mike Bacsik, Jason Middlebrook and Aaron Heilman for the fifth slot.

"It's hard to know what David has left,'' Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "There's no risk. It gives us a free look.''

"We're not looking at David exclusively as a starting pitcher,'' he added.

Cone is 193-123 lifetime with a 3.44 ERA. A five-time All-Star, Cone ranks 17th in major league history with 2,655 strikeouts.

Cone pitched for the Mets from 1987-92, going a career-best 20-3 in 1988.

He won the 1994 Cy Young Award with Kansas City and threw a perfect game in 1999 for the Yankees. He won four World Series championship rings with the Yankees, and also won one with Toronto in 1992.

Cone has enjoyed his relationship with the Yankees, and wanted to make sure his deal with the Mets wouldn't cause any hard feelings.

Cone told Yankees manager Joe Torre on Wednesday he intended to sign with the Mets. Torre wished him luck with the crosstown team.

"Even if you were invited here to pitch, the chances of you making this club are nil with the numbers we have,'' Torre remembered telling Cone.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman also hoped it would work out for Cone.

"With his motivation and his heart, you can't count him out, ever,'' Cashman said. "David has been wanting to come back for quite some time. Spring training in the best place to do it. It's low-risk for the Mets.''

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