Mets add Wagner to growing arsenal

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The hard-throwing reliever agreed to a four-year deal.

NEW YORK -- In a pair of record-setting deals for relief pitchers, Billy Wagner reached a preliminary agreement Monday on a $43 million, four-year contract with the New York Mets only hours after B.J. Ryan finalized a $47 million, five-year agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Ryan's contract is the largest for a reliever in baseball history and Wagner's agreement has the highest average salary. Both broke marks held by New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

"Everybody's looking for pitching and there's not a lot of pitching out on the market. Consequently, it's economics," said Philadelphia Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, who was unsuccessful in his attempt to re-sign Wagner.

Another sign of the premium placed on pitching was the deal Oakland gave to starter Esteban Loaiza, who went 12-10 with a 3.77 ERA for the Washington Nationals last season. He agreed to a three-year contract with the Athletics worth $21,375,000.

"It's good not to have an unsigned closer right now, to be in the market for a closer," said Rick Hahn, assistant general manager of the World Series champion Chicago White Sox. "It certainly is an indication of this robust market for free agents."

One week before the start of the winter meetings, two big sluggers who were traded last week in separate deals were introduced at news conferences, with the Mets showing off first baseman Carlos Delgado and the White Sox welcoming Jim Thome.

Moments after pulling on a Mets jersey at Shea Stadium, Delgado explained why he won't continue his refusal to stand on the field during "God Bless America," a stance he took the last two seasons while playing with Toronto and then Florida. Delgado, who spurned the Mets last offseason to sign with the Marlins, spoke about his anti-war protest with Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.

"I gave him my views on that subject and I also said I would not put myself in front of the team," Delgado said. "The Mets have a policy that everybody should stand for 'God Bless America' and I will be there. I will not cause any distractions to the ballclub."

No sooner had Thome joined the White Sox in a trade from the Phillies last week than he picked up the phone and tried to be a recruiter, calling free-agent first baseman Paul Konerko.

"Please come back," was Thome's message. "I put a call into him this weekend. We have not talked. I've known Paulie for a long time. ... I just wanted him to know from my end. We'll connect I'm sure. He probably has a lot going on and vice versa."

Considered by many the top reliever on the free-agent market, Wagner saved 38 games for Philadelphia last season. The Phillies offered just more than $30 million over three years to retain the 34-year-old left-hander, a four-time All-Star whose fastball reaches 100 mph.

Philadelphia was set to increase the money at 4 p.m. Monday but 45 minutes earlier received a call from Wagner's agent informing the club of the pitcher's decision.

"Three years we felt very comfortable with. Going to a fourth year as the Mets went to, we didn't feel that comfortable," Gillick said.

New York spokesman Jay Horwitz declined comment. Wagner must pass a physical, which is likely to take place today, before the deal can be completed.

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