Wagner says no-trade clause sealed deal with Mets

NEW YORK -- When he's not blowing 100 mph fastballs by big-league hitters, Billy Wagner likes to relax with his family on their quiet Virginia farm.

So the New York Mets knew it was going to take some serious convincing to bring him to the bustling Big Apple -- even though he spent the past two seasons in another tough city, Philadelphia.

To lure the free-agent closer, New York offered $43 million over four years, a no-trade clause and some comforting words from a country boy of its own.

Done deal.

"It seemed like all roads kind of led to New York," Wagner said Tuesday after slipping on his new No. 13 Mets jersey at a Shea Stadium news conference. "I think it was always the Mets' ball to lose."

Maybe one reason was James Plummer, director of corporate services for the Mets and a longtime team employee. A Mets bat boy in 1965, he still counts Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan among his good friends.

The 54-year-old Plummer grew up near Wagner's hometown in Virginia, so he popped in to chat when the four-time All-Star was in general manager Omar Minaya's office during a two-day visit last week.

Of course, Wagner and Plummer knew many of the same roads, mountains and country folks, including the pitcher's uncle.

"It was going to be two minutes, it turned into 30 minutes," Plummer said. "I don't know about recruit, I just try to help out."

But Minaya thought that conversation helped do the trick, making Wagner feel more comfortable about New York.

"Our secret weapon this year was Jimmy Plummer," the GM said.

Wagner saved 38 games for Philadelphia last season and turned down an offer of just more than $30 million over three years to stay with the Phillies. New York's proposal included a club option for 2010 that could raise the value to $50 million over five seasons.

While the Mets offered a no-trade clause, Wagner said Philadelphia was willing to include it for only the first two years of a contract.

"It came down to the no-trade," Wagner said. "To me that played a very important role. ... With three small kids, you want them to be able to be around Dad."

The 34-year-old left-hander appeared at Shea one day after the busy Mets held a news conference to introduce slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado, acquired on Thanksgiving in a trade with the Florida Marlins.

New York also has offers out to free-agent catchers Bengie Molina and Ramon Hernandez. Molina's agent, Alan Nero, said he hasn't had a chance to talk to Minaya recently.

"He's been pretty busy. We haven't heard from him," Nero said. "The ball's in his court."

While Wagner likes the aggressiveness the Mets have shown in trying to improve the team, he said he wouldn't have signed if his wife, Sarah, hadn't felt comfortable during their visit to New York.

The wives of Mets pitcher Tom Glavine and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon helped show Wagner's wife around while the couple was in town.

"My wife was definitely a little nervous," Wagner said, adding that the shopping boutiques became a plus for her. "She really enjoyed it a lot more than I expected her to -- and so did Madison Avenue."

Wagner went 4-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 75 appearances this year. He has 284 career saves. He takes over as the Mets' closer from Braden Looper, who became a free agent after going 4-7 with a 3.94 ERA and 28 saves in 36 chances.

"We didn't really feel comfortable late in the game, and that wasn't just about one guy," Minaya said. "Our No. 1 priority was the closer."

Wagner's agreement has a $10.75 million average salary, topping Mariano Rivera's $10.5 million as the highest for a reliever.

Wagner said he asked the Phillies for a $24 million, three-year contract extension at the trade deadline. After the season, Philadelphia fired GM Ed Wade and replaced him with Pat Gillick.

"I think it was just a situation where he came in a little too late," Wagner said. "I gave them every opportunity to sign me back.

"I wasn't surprised that they didn't make a substantial offer," he said.

His deal was finalized a day after Toronto completed a $47 million, five-year contract with B.J. Ryan, the largest contract for a reliever, topping Rivera's $39.99 million deal with the New York Yankees that covered 2001-04.

"When the B.J. Ryan thing came down and the fifth year was given, I knew that the teams that lost on B.J. were going to be in on Wagner, and that was exactly what happened," Minaya said. "I felt that, look, let's try to get this done sooner rather than later."