Would it be out of place for the Mets to point out to Delgado that their bullpen might be just a little less overtaxed in ’05 now that they no longer have Al Leiter throwing 100 pitches per 5 innings?
Shunned last month by Mets general manager Omar Minaya, Al Leiter was an integral part of that nine-man Florida Marlins SWAT team that rolled out the teal carpet for Carlos Delgado in Miami last weekend.
Leiter loves New York and, until six weeks ago, he loved the Mets. But this was business, and if he could keep Minaya from having another smiling Diamond Club press conference to announce still another free-agent signing, Leiter wanted to do his part.
“My intention was not to leave New York,” Leiter said. “I was living out my childhood dream. My intention was to sign back with the Mets, but it was clear that Omar had other ideas.
“I’m absolutely convinced that Omar does have full autonomy. It’s his show. I know, for a fact, that Fred and Jeff Wilpon (the Mets principal owner and his son, the team’s chief operating officer) didn’t want me gone. Jim Duquette (the team’s senior vice president of baseball operations) didn’t want me to leave. Omar did, and that was pretty clear right from the start.”
After reaching an impasse in their negotiations, the Mets and the 39-year-old Leiter had agreed to explore other options. But when Leiter went back to Minaya and said he was willing to accept the team’s most recent offer, he said Minaya told him there was no longer an offer on the table.
“At some point, after we agreed we’d explore other options, Al said he was interested in coming back,” Minaya said the day Leiter signed with the Marlins. “I thought some things out, and I had some potential deals out there. …There were some things in the market that I felt as general manager, we should explore.”
One of those things, of course, was the signing of Pedro Martinez, whom the Mets eventually landed with a four-year, $53-million deal.
“There are ways to negotiate that make it look like you want to get a deal done even when you don’t,” Leiter said. “(Minaya) should have just said, ‘I don’t want you.'”
So Saturday, the unwanted Leiter found himself seated at Joe’s Stone Crab, a Miami institution, with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, general manager Larry Beinfest and several other Marlins officials. All were trying to convince Delgado and his agent, David Sloane, that south Florida — and not Queens — was the place for the slugger to continue his career.
Leiter pointed out the proximity of Miami to Delgado’s native Puerto Rico. He mentioned the advantages of playing at the newly christened Dolphins Stadium (formerly Pro Player Stadium) rather than at Shea Stadium which, statistically, is one of the most difficult ballparks in the majors for home-run hitters. And he asked Delgado about the allure of becoming the final piece in what the Marlins hope will be an all-Latin infield.
“I was straightforward. I wasn’t there to bash,” Leiter said. “I wasn’t about to say anything derogatory about the Mets. I was just an example of someone who had played recently in New York.
“I love the city. I immersed myself in it, but I’ve played in different cities. I just wanted him to know why it’s different (in New York).”