Mets may swipe slugger from Orioles' grasp

The Mets have made an offer to Vladimir Guerrero, and now may have more than just a puncher's chance to snag the coveted free agent.

Operating with a payroll set at $80 million, the Mets said on Friday they have talked with the free agent

The Mets offer to Guerrero is beileved to be a three-year deal, according to several published reports. The deal is worth $30 million, and could be worth up to $40 million if Guerrero meets all the incentive clauses, according to Newsday.

"We understand the general interest in Vladimir Guerrero," the
Mets said in a statement. "We confirm that we have made an offer
to Guerrero, but we respectfully must reserve any further comment
until the process is completed."

The Orioles have a standing offer of five years and $65 million, which is below what Guerrero expected to get on the open market. Since Baltimore has not upped its offer recently, the door may be more than slightly ajar for the Mets, even though they cannot match the Orioles in terms of money or years.

According to The New York Times, Mets officials are "not very hopeful, but who knows?"

New York has agreed to contracts this offseason with shortstop
Kazuo Matsui ($20.1 million over three years) and center fielder Mike Cameron ($19.5 million over three years).

A source familiar with Guerrero told Newsday on Thursday that he has grown reluctant to sign with Baltimore.

The Mets believe the lure of playing in New York -- and staying in the National League -- would appeal to Guerrero, but they are not willing to move beyond a three-year offer after getting burned by the Mo Vaughn trade before the 2002 season. Vaughn's career is currently in jeopardy, after announcing Thursday that he will miss the entire 2004 season due to severe knee problems.

Both the Mets and Orioles have expressed some concern about the back problems Guerrero suffered last season.

Guerrero missed close to two months last season because of a herniated disk but was terrific after returning, finishing the season with a .330 average, 25 home runs and 79 RBI for the Expos.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.