Barry Larkin is staying in Cincinnati — for the rest of this season and the next three as well.
Hours after he rejected a trade to the Mets, the All-Star shortstop agreed Sunday to a three-year, $27 million contract extension that will keep him with his hometown Reds through 2003.
Appearing in a suit and tie at the Reds’ offices five hours after a 5-3 victory over Arizona, Larkin admitted he was stunned when owner Carl Lindner decided to give him almost exactly what he had sought.
Reds general manager Jim Bowden, who arranged a trade with the Mets, sought out Larkin after the game and told him that Lindner wanted to talk about his contract.
“This has all really come as a shock to me,” Larkin said. “Today I fielded questions about possibly being a Met. Now Mr. Lindner and the organization have stepped up and signed me for three more years as a Red.”
Mets general manager Steve Phillips had the same reaction to the Reds’ stunning about-face.
“Astonishment,” Phillips said, “only because Jim Bowden told me they were not going to sign him. ... I guess we helped Barry Larkin get a contract.”
Only five days earlier, the Reds told Larkin they wouldn’t meet his request for a three-year, $27.9 million extension. Since Larkin could be a free agent, Bowden worked out a trade with the Mets for three players.
It required Larkin’s approval. He wouldn’t give it because the Mets weren’t offering a contract extension.
News Draws Ovation
His decision to stay drew a 30-second standing ovation from 34,822 fans on Sunday. It also became a prelude to the club’s strangest day since Lindner took control of the team from Marge Schott last September.
The Reds wound up giving Larkin only $900,000 less than he requested. A little less than one-third of the $27 million will be deferred over 15 years, according to a source familiar with the contract.
Larkin, who makes $5.3 million this season, will get $6 million next year. When Bowden called him aside after the game, he thought he’d been traded to a different team.
“I thought OK, if not New York, then where?” Larkin said. “I thought I was going to be talking to Jim about going to another big market club that needed a shortstop. This all happened very fast. I’m very appreciative of it.”
Phillips wished the Reds would have called and told him about the extension, which he learned about secondhand.
“I think it’s appropriate he finishes his career in Cincinnati,” Phillips said. “It’s good for him and his family. I understand that part. But if he wanted out, we were interested.”
Ken Griffey Jr., who blocked a trade to the Mets last December, had offered to defer even more of his $116.5 million deal to help keep Larkin in Cincinnati. Chief operating officer John Allen said the club didn’t take him up on the offer.
The Reds will have to raise ticket prices — maybe this season — to cover the contract, Allen said. The Reds will depend upon ticket revenues until they move into a new stadium in 2003, the final year of Larkin’s new deal.
“I announce that right now: There’s going to be a ticket price increase and possibly before the end of this season,” Allen said. “We’re going to review that over the next few days and we may do something that nobody else has ever done and raise ticket prices during a season. We’ve got to generate the revenues to pay for this.”
Griffey, who had lobbied for the Reds to keep Larkin, showed up for the news conference and gave him a hug.
Junior Excited by News
“I’m really excited,” Griffey said. “This is one of the reasons I came over here, to play with this guy. Since spring training, it’s been great. Now I get to do it for the next three years.”
The Reds’ surprising offer ended a day of ovations, acrimony and disappointment for the 36-year-old Larkin, who has played all 15 of his major league seasons with his hometown team and wanted to finish his career in Cincinnati.
The tentative trade with the Mets led to bruised feelings between Larkin and the front office. Larkin suggested the Mets were misled.
Larkin said that Bowden failed to tell the Mets in advance about his conditions for approving the trade. Larkin wanted a multiyear extension, but the Mets were only interested in him as a stopgap for with shortstop Rey Ordonez sidelined by a broken arm this season.
Larkin would have liked New York — he named his oldest daughter Brielle D’Shea, after the Mets’ stadium — but made it clear he wouldn’t go there for only a half-season.
“All the parties knew that — at least, that’s what we told Jim,” Larkin said. “But he obviously didn’t relay that to the Mets. I guess they didn’t realize what was going on with this entire thing.”
Phillips confirmed that the Mets agreed to talk to Larkin on the assumption he would accept a trade for this season only.
“I called Jim (on Friday) and said, ‘Where is Barry on this?“‘ Phillips said. “Jim told me, ‘Oh, don’t worry, he’ll accept the deal.’ Jim said he might be talking a little bit, but he was convinced he would want to get out of the negativity in Cincinnati.
“It seems there was a misunderstanding. From my discussions with Eric and Jim, they were not on the same page with what was going to happen with his contract.”
Bowden said he didn’t tell the Mets about Larkin’s contract conditions because he didn’t learn about them until Thursday, after New York agreed to the tentative deal.
“That’s correct because we were not told until after the deal was consummated,” Bowden said.
The Mets weren’t interested in offering a long-term deal because it would limit their options in the offseason. Ordonez has three years left on a $19 million contract he signed in January, and Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez might be a free agent.
“It’s going to be an appealing free-agent class out there and we didn’t want to make all the decisions today, not knowing what the future is going to be like,” Phillips said.