Kevin Appier Signs With Mets

The New York Mets finally got their big name free agent pitcher today when Kevin Appier agreed to a $42 million, four-year deal to play for the NL champions.

“New York is a very exciting city,” Appier said from the winter meetings in Dallas. “You can’t get a bigger stage than that. If we do great, that’s only better. I’m glad to have the opportunity.”

The Baltimore Orioles also wanted Appier, and seemed prepared to offer even more than the Mets, but the right-hander chose New York.

The Mets zeroed in on Appier after finding out Friday that free agent Mike Hampton had walked away from the team to take a record $121 million, eight-year contract with the Colorado Rockies. New York also lost out on Mike Mussina, who signed with the Yankees, and Denny Neagle, who went to Colorado.

Appier in the Mix

“Right from the beginning, we knew Kevin Appier would be right in the mix of pitchers we were trying to pursue,” Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. “Obviously we had interest in the Hampton and Mussina fronts, but those ran parallel with discussions with Kevin. We feel fortunate to get a pitcher of his caliber.”

The Mets also acquired reliever Donne Wall from San Diego for outfielder Bubba Trammell and signed Tsuyoshi Shinjo, a free agent outfielder in Japan, to a $700,000, one-year contract.

Several other teams, including Boston, had pursued Appier, who turned 33 on Wednesday. The New York Yankees showed early interest before signing Mussina.

Appier was 15-11 with a 4.52 ERA in 195 1-3 innings for AL West champion Oakland last season. He was traded to the Athletics in the middle of the 1999 pennant race.

The Mets did not try to trade for Appier when he became available in 1999, perhaps because of worries about his health. Once one of the AL’s top workhorses, he missed most of the 1998 season because of surgery on his right shoulder.

Appier has been fine for two seasons, and the Mets’ concerns seemed to have diminished. In his 12-year career, Appier is 136-105 with a 3.63 ERA.

Appier receives a $2 million signing bonus, with $1 million paid upon the approval of the contract and $1 million paid July 1, 2002. He will make $8 million this season, $9 million in 2002, $11 million in 2003, and $12 million in 2004.

With Appier, the Mets still have one spot left to fill in their rotation. Bobby J. Jones, who won 11 games for the Mets last season, is a free agent and recently was offered salary arbitration.

The Mets have talked to free agent David Cone, cut loose last week by the Yankees. There also has been speculation the Mets might try to trade for a pitcher, perhaps Colorado’s Pedro Astacio or Montreal’s Dustin Hermanson.

Al Leiter, Rick Reed and Glendon Rusch form the rest of the Mets’ rotation. Reed, a free agent, recently re-signed with the Mets for three years and $21.75 million.

Supply and Demand Economics

Asked about the rising price of pitching, Phillips had an answer.

“Every time somebody comes off the board, it reduces the supply,” he said. “That makes people more aggressive.”

Shinjo becomes the 12th Japanese player to enter the majors. The only other Japanese position player is outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, the best hitter in Japanese baseball. He signed with Seattle last month.

“I finally found a place where I can play baseball — it’s the New York Mets,” the 28-year-old slugger for the Hanshin Tigers said at a news conference.

Shinjo receives a $300,000 signing bonus and will be paid $200,000 this season. The Mets have options for the 2002 and 2003 with a $200,000 buyout. Shinjo can make an additional $500,000 next season in performance bonuses.

The right-handed batter hit .279 average this season with 139 hits, 28 home runs and 83 RBIs.