NEW YORK -- The Mets have made it abundantly clear they will not go to any length to sign Barry Zito. They will go to California, though. And that's a lengthy flight, even in the Wilpon jet. But a left-handed starting pitcher who throws 200-plus innings a year as a matter of course has enticed the Mets enough that a four-man contingent made the coast-to-coast trek to meet with Zito and his agent, Scott Boras.
COO Jeff Wilpon, general manager Omar Minaya and his assistants John Ricco and Tony Bernazard met with the veteran pitcher and Boras on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
The Mets have spoken with Boras several times, but the club insists it has made no offer for Zito. Since the day Zito filed for free agency -- that allowed the Mets to speak publicly about him -- the club has spoken more of fiscal restraint than about adding him to its diminished rotation. The Mets have reiterated they won't engage in bidding against another club, that they have a sense of Zito's value -- as a Met -- and they will base their dealing on that sense.
Boras, meanwhile, usually directs his clients to where the money is -- see Carlos Beltran, 2005. And he has said he expects his client will command a contract covering six or seven years. The Mets seemingly were not all that comfortable with the notion of signing a pitcher for five years. The average annual value of the contract is another issue entirely.
The Rangers are said to be willing to pay Zito $100 million to pitch -- and swelter -- in their ballpark. The Mets are hoping to persuade Zito that Shea Stadium -- not to mention a chance to pitch in the postseason -- is a lot cooler.
David Wright already has tried to convince Zito of the coolness of being a Met with long-distance and quite indirect advertising, essentially challenging Zito: "Why wouldn't you want to play here?" The notion of pitching to National League hitters who are relatively unfamiliar with his curve and other pitches is thought to be another element in the Mets favor as is Zito's relationship with Rick Peterson, the Mets' pitching coach who was Zito's coach for four seasons with the A's.
Rangers owner Tom Hicks, general manager Jon Daniels and other club officials met with Zito in Texas Nov. 30. The Giants also covet Zito in the wake of the departure of Jason Schmidt.
Should the Mets persuade Zito to sign, their rotation would morph from a liability to an asset. He, Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez would afford the team a veteran presence -- not to mention two left-handed starters, not a bad thing to have in the Ryan Howard league.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.