NEW YORK -- For more than a decade, Tom Glavine helped put the Atlanta Braves on top.
Now, he'll try to topple them.
Glavine, the most sought-after pitcher on the free-agent market, reached agreement with the New York Mets on a three-year contract, his agent said Thursday night.
"It's a heck of a signing for us," gushed Mets pitcher Al Leiter. "I'm real excited -- he's a future Hall of Famer and he might be the last guy to win 300 games. I'm looking forward to learning a lot from him."
Glavine, 36, had spent his whole career with the Braves, winning two Cy Young Awards and posting five 20-win seasons.
But their NL East rivals, the Mets and Phillies, showed much more interest in the left-hander than his old team. So it came down to a choice between New York and Philadelphia.
"It was one of the toughest decisions he's ever had to make," said his agent, Gregg Clifton. "There wasn't really one thing that decided it. He just made a decision."
Glavine was believed to have gotten a $35 million contract with a vesting option that could make the deal worth $42.5 million.
"We have reached an understanding with Tom Glavine on the structure of a multiyear contract," Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said. "The completion of an agreement is subject to Tom passing a physical examination on Monday, Dec. 9."
Glavine has never been on the disabled list since making his major league debut with Atlanta in 1987.
Braves president Stan Kasten, who was attending an Atlanta Hawks game at Philips Arena, declined comment. He said the team probably would hold a news conference Friday.
Glavine did not return a telephone message left at his home.
"Although we were disappointed to hear that he has opted to sign with the Mets, we appreciate the opportunity we had to try to sign him," Phillies general manager Ed Wade said in a statement.
"Tom was as professional and poised in our contract discussions as he is on the mound, and we wish him well ... against all our division opponents."
Fellow Cy Young winners Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux also are free agents, but have hardly generated interest so far in the offseason.
With Glavine in their rotation, the Braves won 11 straight division titles -- and became the Mets' biggest nemesis.
When Atlanta won its only World Series championship in 1995, Glavine pitched the clinching game. He gave up only one hit over eight innings and beat Cleveland 1-0 in Game 6 for the title, and was voted MVP of the Series.
Glavine was 18-11 with a 2.96 ERA this year. He is 242-143 with a 3.37 ERA lifetime.
He also had been with the Braves longer than any active player, joining them a year before John Smoltz. Along with Maddux, they had formed a rotation that brought them unparalleled success in division play.
Glavine also happens to be the losingest pitcher in postseason history, going 12-15 overall. He has pitched well in some of those defeats, though he was hit hard by San Francisco last October in going 0-2 with a 15.26 ERA in the first round.
The Mets and Phillies both were aggressive in their pursuit of Glavine. Each team made three-year offers worth about $9 million to $10 million annually while the Braves proposed a two-year deal with an option for 2005 that could become guaranteed based on starts and innings.
Glavine met with Kasten earlier this week, but that get-together failed to lead to an agreement.
"I was surprised that he left, until the end," Leiter said. "Even though a guy has spent 15-16 years in one place, it's about being truly wanted."
"I got a little worried when the Phillies signed Jim Thome. I thought that might influence his decision," he said.
Glavine visited New York and Philadelphia last month. When the pitcher came to New York, he had lunch with Leiter, general manager Steve Phillips, Mets owner Fred Wilpon, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, new manager Art Howe, and pitcher John Franco.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also stopped by to help recruit Glavine, as did New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter and hockey Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert. Glavine was a hockey star in high school and was drafted by the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.
While the Braves led the NL in victories in going 101-59, the Mets were among the most disappointing teams in the majors last season.
Despite a huge payroll and the addition of big-name players such as Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn, they stumbled to a last-place finish at 75-86, leaving them 26 1/2 games behind the Braves and costing manager Bobby Valentine his job.
It was a far cry from 2000, when the Mets went to the World Series, where they lost in six games to the New York Yankees.
Glavine will join fellow lefty Leiter and Pedro Astacio in the Mets' rotation. The other starters are still to be determined, with John Thomson and several young pitchers in the mix, along with free agent Steve Trachsel.
The Phillies, who went 80-81 last year, already had improved their team in the offseason by signing a pair of free agents. After getting third baseman David Bell, they got Thome, a slugging first baseman.
Drafted by Atlanta in 1984, Glavine's rise to prominence coincided with the Braves' surge to the top.
He posted the best season of his young career in 1991, going 20-11 as Atlanta reversed its fortunes and zoomed from last place to first. He also reached the 20-win mark the next two seasons, and did it again in 1998 and 2000.