Posted: Tuesday November 14, 2006 12:25AM; Updated: Tuesday November 14, 2006 10:54AM
Also in this column: Matsuzaka's true cost More news and notes
Barry Zito's agent, Scott Boras, says there are as many as 12 to 15 teams bidding for the left-hander.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
NAPLES, Fla. -- The Mets are intending to make a strong play for free-agent pitcher Barry Zito, and they already have begun their pursuit here.
The guys from Queens surely know by now they've lost out to the Red Sox despite what they thought was a strong bid for Japanese League star Daisuke Matsuzaka (though not as strong as Boston's -- it's now believed the Sox bid a stunning $45 million-plus). And the Mets don't believe Jason Schmidt, the other top-of-the-rotation starter, would seriously consider playing in New York.
The Mets do believe Zito is the remaining pitcher who 1) fits the profile they're looking for, and 2) is gettable. While they might not be willing to meet agent ScottBoras' asking price of about $105 million for seven years, they're expected to make a serious offer for five or perhaps even six years for the free-agent left-hander.
Mets general manager Omar Minaya didn't wish to discuss specific targets, but said, "With Pedro (Martinez) out, we're looking at how to try to improve our pitching. We're OK, we've got numbers. We've got guys to go to. But you have to consider pitching."
The Mets are still hopeful Tom Glavine will choose to remain with them rather than return to the Braves. But for now, there are no certainties to fill the front end of the rotation. Though the Mets have expressed the hope that Martinez could be back by the second half next year, that seems to be a best-case scenario. He had a serious shoulder surgery, and while Mets people won't say so publicly, there's certainly some doubt as to whether he will pitch at all this coming year.
While the Mets may take a peek at Carlos Lee (their well-respected bench coach, Jerry Manuel, loves Lee) for left field and will still definitely look at second-base options (Brooklyn native Julio Lugo is a possibility) even after deciding to bring back Jose Valentin, pitching is their clear priority. It is believed they started by making a very viable bid for Matsuzaka, only to have Boston blow everyone out of the water.
The Mets didn't pursue Zito in a trade last summer but only because they didn't want to deal top young players to only rent a pitcher, knowing there was no likelihood of a quickie long-term deal. But they aren't opposed to giving a multiyear deal to the pitcher who's thrown more innings than anyone except Mark Buerhle and Livan Hernandez over the past six years.
Zito also appears to be someone who'd like to go to New York rather than someone who has to be talked into it. Friends say he loves big cities, and all things being equal, New York and Los Angeles would seem to be his most likely landing spots. While money is the key factor in any of these competitions, it can't hurt that their pitching coach, Rick Peterson, is extremely close to Zito, going back to even before Peterson joined Zito in Oakland.
With Matsuzaka no longer an option, the Mets met here with Boras, who's saying there are a very large number of teams bidding on Zito -- as many as 12 to 15 -- which shouldn't be surprising considering the small number of top-flight starters who are free agents. There's a big dropoff after Matsuzaka, Zito and Schmidt to the next tier, which includes Gil Meche, Vicente Padilla, Ted Lilly, Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver.
The trade market isn't exactly bursting with possibilities, either. One of three White Sox starters -- Freddy Garcia, Javier Vazquez or Buerhle -- could possibly be available in trade. But last summer, the White Sox wanted young pitcher Mike Pelfrey and more for Garcia, and the Mets consider Pelfrey "untouchable." Pelfrey's status is also the reason they'd have trouble prying Dontrelle Willis away from the Marlins even if Florida should make Willis available.
The Angels are another team that's expected to aggressively pursue Zito, and the Cubs, Rangers, Yankees and anyone else who lost out for Matsuzaka will also look at the lefty. The Yankees will consider Zito but may not be as inclined as their crosstown rival to meet the monetary demands. However, if the Yankees don't play for Zito, they're going to have trouble finding a strong response to Boston's ultra-aggressive start to the winter.