2006 NEWS

2006 News > 5/26/06


By David Lennon, Newsday

One Mets official described it as "financial engineering." A more common term might be "payroll flexibility." But in reworking the contract of Tom Glavine last winter, the bottom line is the same: The Mets wanted to create a war chest for this season, a cash reserve from which they could withdraw the millions of dollars necessary for a major acquisition by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

That's how it was posed to Glavine as he headed into the final year of his contract, and for a pitcher approaching 300 wins, not to mention salivating for another shot at the playoffs, deferring $3 million of this season's $10.5-million salary sounded like a good idea.

"If they're telling me it gives them some flexibility to be able to go out and add some players at some point in time to make our team better, then heck, yeah, I'm all for it," Glavine said. "That's good for us, it's good for me, and the better chance we give ourselves of winning, that's a win-win for everybody.

"You can pretty much assume at the start of the season, if you're in contention, coming into the trading deadline, no matter how good you are, there's something you can add to get better."

General manager Omar Minaya didn't waste any time dipping into that fund when he traded Jorge Julio for Orlando Hernandez on Wednesday, a move that added about $1.55 million to the payroll. That's not bad if Hernandez is anything like the El Duque of old, and by the Mets' estimations, that leaves them with another $1.45 million toward the next trade.

Even with Hernandez on board, the Mets may target another starting pitcher, such as the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis, or a key injury could lead them in another direction as the deadline approaches. As one Mets official explained, it's been difficult to discuss a marquee player with so few teams ready to give up just yet, though the Royals, Marlins and Pirates may be close to throwing in the towel shortly.

In another few weeks, teams will stop asking for David Wright, Jose Reyes and Lastings Milledge in looking to dump high-salaried stars in the walk years of their contract. That's when Minaya could move on another front-line starter, and with the Mets well below the luxury tax threshold of $134.5 million, money won't be a major issue.

Unlike the Yankees, who showed little restraint in pushing their payroll past the $200-million plateau, the Mets are a bit more fiscally responsible despite sharing the same lucrative tri-state market. The creation of their own television network has added a significant revenue stream, and the new stadium, scheduled to open in 2009, will bring in money the Mets probably never dreamed of before.

But owner Fred Wilpon and his COO son, Jeff, try to stick to a business plan, which is why they decided to have that sitdown with Glavine.

The payroll itself wasn't that much of a concern for the Mets after losing $15 million from Mike Piazza's expired contract and also shedding another $7.5 million by trading Mike Cameron to San Diego.

That opened the door for Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca, while still keeping the payroll in the same range as the previous year, which the Mets estimated to be about $120 million.

Enter Glavine, whose initial contract was set to expire after 2006, prompting the two sides to work out another deal with deferred money that added a team option for 2007.

The Mets can bring Glavine back for $12 million, or if they choose not to, he can activate a player option for $5.5 million that could grow to $8.5 million if he pitches 200 innings. The team option climbs to $14 million if Glavine reaches 180 innings, and the reworked contract includes a $3-million buyout to cover the deferred money.

Given the comfy relationship between Glavine and the Wilpons, there's almost zero chance he won't be back with the Mets next year, and Glavine is keenly aware of how important it is to be surrounded by top-shelf talent. The sudden trade for Hernandez took him by surprise Wednesday, even with the depleted rotation, but he's certain that Minaya isn't done making deals for a playoff push.

"With this team, and this market that we're in, you would assume that we'd try and do that," Glavine said. "If what I did makes it easier, that's fine by me."