The Mets regularly had tracked the progress of Victor Zambrano as he rehabbed his surgically repaired right elbow. They appeared to maintain a level of interest in the pitcher who had been a member of their rotation for parts of three seasons. But their interest ultimately wasn't such that they would pay him $2.4 million for next season.
So the club has opted not to tender a contract to the veteran right-handed pitcher. When the deadline for tendering contracts passes at midnight ET Tuesday, Zambrano will become a free agent.
The collective bargaining agreement mandates a club tender a contract for at least 80 percent of what a player earned the preceding season to any player on its 40-man roster not under contract. Zambrano, 31 years old, twice-repaired and modestly successful, earned $3 million for the 2006 season.
The issue of tendering a contract to Dave Williams passed Tuesday when the left-handed pitcher acquired from the Reds last summer agreed to a one-year contract for $1.25 million. Because Williams earned $1.4 million last season, the Mets were obligated to tender him for at least $1.12 million. The contract includes incentives based on starts or appearances that can put his 2007 earnings at more than $2 million.
Williams is a potential starter in the eyes of general manager Omar Minaya. He looms a little larger in the Mets' plans now that free agent Darren Oliver has signed with the Angels, not that the Mets ever were intent on re-signing Oliver.
Williams, 27, produced a 3-1 record and 5.59 ERA in six appearances -- five starts -- and 29 innings with the Mets.
Zambrano will be free to sign with any club -- the Mets included -- for any figure at the Major League minimum or more. He had been willing to pitch in relief to improve his chances of returning to the Mets and to return to the big leagues earlier.
He produced a 1-2 record and 6.75 ERA in five starts in 2006, his season ending May 6 when he left the mound, the flexor tendon in his right elbow torn and in need of surgical repair. He had undergone Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery once previously.
Since his acquisition in 2004 in a controversial trade that cost the Mets Scott Kazmir, Zambrano had produced a 10-14 record and 4.42 ERA in 39 appearances -- 35 starts. He has been a perpetual project in his career, seldom pitching consistently at a level comparable with his potential.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.