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Baseball waits on Mets' strategy

Baseball waits on Mets' strategy

As shoppers in the free-agent market, the Mets of recent vintage have shown a tendency to follow through and get their man. Once they pick up the scent of a player who appeals to them and who would fill a void in their roster, they seem to do what's necessary to close the deal, whether that entails adding money or years -- or both -- to an existing proposal. They seldom have retreated.

The Mets afforded Tom Glavine what he wanted in December, 2002. The following year, the offer of a fourth year under contract persuaded Pedro Martinez to move to Flushing, and a late-in-game increase in money brought Carlos Beltran to the Mets. Last year, it was a final push, fourth-year offer that convinced Billy Wagner to decline the Phillies' offer and move to Shea Stadium.

Whether that type of persistent dedication is a component of the Mets' pursuit of Barry Zito remains to be seen. To this point, their approach has been one of spoken restraint. Until flying to California and meeting with Zito and his representative Tuesday, they had moved forward as if tethered to reluctance by a short elastic band. Whether their appearance of reservation is not merely appearance or part of a strategy -- or both -- is left to agent Scott Boras to measure.

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Others in the free-agent market are watching the Mets now, most of them seemingly convinced the club won't retreat and that Zito will bring his curveball and his 200-plus innings to Shea Stadium. They're just not sure whether the primary factor in this scenario will be Zito's desire to pitch for a New York team with a chance to play in the postseason or what one agent calls "Omar's momentum." Or both.

"You get the feeling that if Zito gives a sign that he's real interested in playing in New York, [general manager] Omar [Minaya] will shift into passing gear and get it done," a longtime agent said Tuesday night.

Minaya is not alone in this pursuit, of course. And if he indeed has passing gear, it is fueled by the Wilpon treasury. Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' COO, as well as Minaya's assistants John Ricco and Tony Bernazard, are parts of the four-man delegation that met with Boras and his client Tuesday. Each was in place before Beltran, also a Boras client, before the Mets agreed to pay the center fielder $119 million for seven years of service.

Neither number in the Zito scenario will reach so high. The Mets are reluctant to afford a pitcher a contract of five years, though the average annual value of Zito's eventual contract -- whether he signs with the Mets, Rangers or Giants -- is likely to equal that of Beltran's $17 million.

"I think the Mets liked how last season went," the agent said. "What's not to like? With the talent they have, they have a chance to turn one year into the first year of a run. With the new park and the new network, that makes sense. If Omar is convinced that signing Zito assures them of that -- or at least makes them the favorite, he'll probably go into passing gear."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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