|Friday, November 22
Mets can only hope Glavine says yes
By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com
Fingers crossed, prayers uttered and checkbooks open wide, the Mets delivered themselves to Tom Glavine on Thursday, hopeful that face-to-face meetings with owner Fred Wilpon and manager Art Howe, veterans Al Leiter and John Franco, and even New York mayor Michael Bloomberg convinced Glavine to rescue this last-place team.
The Mets literally used every sightseeing weapon at their disposal, inviting the free agent lefty to spend a day as their guest. Glavine took a tour of Westchester County's finest neighborhoods, had lunch at The Four Seasons restaurant in midtown Manhattan, where he chatted with Bloomberg and New York Rangers' goalie Mike Richter.
It was a perfectly-choreographed afternoon, and club officials considered the feel-good tour an unconditional success. Still, the Mets know it'll take more than rich food and big-city energy to impress Glavine. His decision to play for the Mets or Phillies, or even return to the Braves, hinges largely on money and the length of any new contract.
The Mets have thus far out-bid their competitors, offering three years at $28.5 million, but that hasn't been enough to sway Glavine. Instead, he's holding out for a critical fourth year, telling the New York Times, "I want to have the opportunity to win 300 games, and I think in order to do that, I have to pitch four (more) years. So I don't want to make a decision and in three years have to find a team to pitch for in the fourth year. That fourth year is an important part of it."
Whether the Mets will extend their offer to the 2006 season remained unanswered on Thursday because, as hard as Wilpon and GM Steve Phillips worked at selling Glavine on a Mets' rebirth in 2003, money wasn't once discussed. Instead, Glavine left for Philadelphia -- his next stop on the free-agency tour -- without any further promises from the Mets, and without revealing which way he's leaning.
That means every other Met decision will remain on hold, at least until after Thanksgiving, which is when Glavine will presumably choose his new team. Until then, Wilpon and Phillips can't commit to their own free agent, Edgardo Alfonzo, and can't explore a potential trade with the Rockies for Jeromy Burnitz and Rey Ordonez.
The Mets' first priority is Glavine, and determining just how much he'll cost. If the Mets do indeed sign the lefty, it'd be highly unlikely that Alfonzo would be back. Conversely, if Glavine were to choose the Phillies or Braves, the Mets would have the extra cash to re-sign Alfonzo, who, according to agent Peter Greenberg, is just as essential as any elite caliber pitcher, even Glavine.
Just this week, the New York Post reported that Greenberg distributed statistics to a dozen teams which supported the third baseman's must-sign stature. For instance, the Mets went 69-66 with Alfonzo in 2002, and were 6-20 without him. Additionally, the Mets lost 12 straight games last August when Alfonzo was on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. The club scored just 2.69 runs per game when he was out of the lineup and 4.59 runs with him.
Yet, despite the persuasiveness of those numbers, the Mets appear reluctant to commit to Alfonzo, possibly because of a history of chronic back problems which may have contributed to his decline in power. Alfonzo hit only 16 home runs in 2002, his lowest total since 1997.
If Alfonzo were to move on, the Mets could replace him with rookie Ty Wigginton and simply count on better seasons from three key veterans -- Mike Piazza, Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar, all of whom hit well below their career averages in 2002 and were largely responsible for the Mets ranking 13th in the NL in runs.
Piazza hit .280, 41 points below his career mark, and at age 34 could finally be paying the surcharge from more than 10,000 career innings behind the plate. The club continues to insist, however, there are no plans to move Piazza to first base.
Alomar hit just .266, his worst average since his rookie season in 1988, and made no secret of his distaste for Shea's cavernous outfield dimensions and thick infield grass -- both of which he said conspired to depress his average.
And Vaughn's .259 average and 72 RBI represented the second-worst totals of his career. The first baseman admitted he was overweight and out of shape all summer. In a closed-door meeting with Wilpon at the end of the season Vaughn was told to trim down or else have the club void his contract.
The Shea landscape was as barren as it'd been in a decade, and Wilpon admitted last September, "we have a public relations problem." However, the Mets' vision of a more prosperous 2003 is rooted in the belief that Piazza, Vaughn and Alomar won't all struggle again.
And club officials are just as hopeful that Howe's upbeat, professional demeanor will raise the spirit in the clubhouse, as well. After years of witnessing the unrelenting political war between Phillips and the deposed Bobby Valentine, the Mets may indeed respond to Howe's unpretentious manner.
At least that's the blueprint. But there's still no substitute for talent, and in the words of one major league executive, the Mets are "sinking." Indeed, their best players are, if not in full decline, no longer improving, which is why Wilpon and Phillips steadfastly refused to surrender prospects Jose Reyes, a 19-year-old shortstop, and Aaron Heilman, a 24-year-old right-handed pitcher, to the Mariners as compensation for Lou Piniella.
Wilpon still believes the Mets can return to respectability in 2003 -- one reason why he's pursuing Glavine so hotly. It's more than the lefty's changeup that makes him so attractive. It's the aura of competence the Mets crave.
Question is, can the Mets compete with the Phillies, who have a young, blossoming roster and a new stadium coming in 2004?
Can they compete with the Braves, the only team Glavine has ever played for?
It could come down to a fourth year on that current offer -- almost $40 million to a pitcher who'll be 41 at the end of his contract. The Mets have money, but they're not Steinbrenner-rich and it's possible that Wilpon let Glavine leave town on Thursday without offering any more money because ... well, maybe because the club has reached its financial limit.
In other words, as Glavine contemplates his future, Wilpon's fingers are crossed. Tightly.
Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.