By Mike Steffanos
Omar Minaya, Jeff Wilpon and a contingent from the team's front office are winging their way out to the left coast to have a long-awaited sit-down with Barry Zito and Scott Boras. For all of the speculation on just how much interest the Mets have in the 28-year-old southpaw, the fact that they're flying out today certainly shows a desire to sign him for the Mets.
I became rather amused reading the locals today as I saw the various spins being put on this trip. First from Adam Rubin in the Daily News:
Minaya relishes face-to-face meetings with recruits, particularly in their homes. He successfully landed Pedro Martinez after visiting the Dominican Republic and Carlos Beltran after visiting Puerto Rico two winters ago. The GM similarly visited Billy Wagner in Virginia last offseason, and the closer and his wife Sarah later toured New York with Tom and Chris Glavine as guides.
Contrast the above with Michael Morrissey in the New York Post:
The Mets' front office will meet with Zito today, but the former Oakland ace apparently didn't want to fly cross-country to New York. Thus, the meeting will take place in southern California with the left-hander and his agent, Scott Boras, a team spokesman confirmed last night.
Although a face-to-face meeting outside the Big Apple doesn't prevent the possibility of a deal, it negates some of the things the Mets wanted to do. Third baseman David Wright volunteered to show the 28-year-old lefty around Manhattan, and one could imagine the two successful bachelors prowling the town. Veteran pitcher Tom Glavine vowed to fly up from Georgia specifically for the recruiting visit, and a club official had said closer Billy Wagner also was on board to do his part.
Instead, the Mets must negotiate with Boras on his turf and on his terms. Boras is known for bleeding every last dollar out of a franchise with his free-agent signings, and many believe this negotiation will be no different.
So while Rubin sees this trip as a positive, with Minaya relishing a face-to-face, Morrissey sees a dark, ominous cloud floating over that plane winging westward. Another interesting contrast is between Morrissey and Newsday's Ken Davidoff on the Mets decision not to bring Rick Peterson along. According to Davidoff, it was just a logistical decision:
The Mets discussed the idea of bringing Peterson with them, a person familiar with the situation said, but Minaya ultimately made the call to limit the club's contingent to the front-office level.
Morrissey, coming across as a "glass half empty" guy throughout his piece, of course finds the negative:
Pitching coach Rick Peterson isn't scheduled to be part of the party, and neither are any players, a team spokesman said last night. Zito sought out Peterson's tutelage as an amateur and blossomed while both men were in Oakland.
Although Zito probably could call Peterson any time, the fact there won't be a face-to-face meeting between the two should be seen as a blow to the Mets' effort to put their best foot forward. Similarly, Mets players could accentuate the tangibles and intangibles of playing in New York, but that won't happen, either.
Did you ever have a relationship with someone who insisted on interpreting every little thing you did as it related to them, whether you really meant anything by it or not? That happened to me a couple of times, but those ladies had nothing on New York sportswriters. They have to stretch their imaginations to come up with something for their demanding editors, satisfying our insatiable desire for hot stove news. I don't envy them, but then again, there are worse ways to make a living. And for what it's worth, with due respect to Morrissey, I think he's finding negatives that don't really exist.
For those of you that have Barry Zito on top of your Christmas wish list, you must just feel grateful that something is happening, even though it's likely that we'll be into the new year before this thing finally gets resolved. But the ball is rolling now, and we should soon get a strong indication of just how serious the Mets are. We hear that they're not going to be the high bidder, but they'd better be close. Remember, it was Barry Zito that chose to hire Scott Boras as an agent, and Zito is smart enough to understand that Boras almost invariably chases the last dollar.
For what it's worth, FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal thinks that Zito should sacrifice some money to pitch in New York:
If Barry Zito wants to become the pitching equivalent of Alex Rodriguez - a free agent who chased every last dollar - then he should sign with the Rangers.
If he wants to give himself the greatest chance of success, he should choose the Mets.
... With the Mets, Zito would work at pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium, reunite with former A's pitching coach Rick Peterson and - perhaps most important - pitch in the less-potent National League.
Zito, 28, is 102-63 lifetime with a 3.83 ERA. His next six years probably will not be as good as his first six, given his declining strikeout rate and rising opponents' OPS.
Yet, if he's thinking at all about the Hall of Fame - not an unreasonable notion, given his consistency and durability - his decision will be easy.
Go with the better team. Go with the better situation. Go with the Mets.
I think many Mets fans who want to see Barry Zito in a Mets uniform next season heartily concur. Still, I just can't discount that Zito elected to sign with Boras, and I question just how much money he'd be willing to leave on the table. This is going to be interesting. Anyway, whatever it is, it's now officially started.