NEW YORK -- The Mets' pursuit of a starting pitcher likely to provide at least 200 innings per season is quite serious and finally under way. The club with a conspicuous vacancy in its rotation is willing to pay Derek Lowe at least $12 million per year to fill it during the 2009-2011 seasons.
An offer to the right-handed veteran has been reported by The New York Times in its Wednesday editions and confirmed by a person familiar with the Mets' maneuvers. The newspaper said the offer was for $36 million, and the Mets source confirmed those terms are in the neighborhood of the club's proposal.
General manager Omar Minaya had indicated over the weekend that the club would make offers early this week to Lowe, Oliver Perez and, possibly, a third pitcher, Randy Wolf, in hopes that the slow free-agent market and competition for a place on a roster likely to produce a successful 2009 season would prompt one of the pitchers to accept an offer.
By Wednesday morning, the Mets had made offers to neither Perez nor Wolf, a clear indication that Lowe is the club's preference, though he is older, by eight years, than Perez, their second choice. The two are represented by Scott Boras, the renowned agent who moves deliberately though all negotiations. Wolf, 33 in August, is left-handed, as is Perez.
The Mets' proposal was characterized as a first step. The club recognizes Lowe, the most attractive starting pitcher still available as a free agent, is likely to command an average annual income greater than $12 million. It isn't opposed to a contract that would include a fourth year, not guaranteed, that would be triggered by clauses based on innings or starts during the first three years of the deal. Such structuring is common, particularly for starters in their mid-to-late 30s.
The Mets regard Lowe as more likely to be consistent from start to start than Perez, who has pitched in their rotation since early August 2006. Lowe has produced five seasons of at least 200 innings in the past seven years. And he pitched 199 1/3 in another. Perez has averaged 156 1/3 in the last five seasons, making 135 starts, 33 fewer than Lowe. Johan Santana (234 1/3 frames, the most in the National League) and Mike Pelfrey (200 2/3) were the only Mets pitchers to exceed 200 innings in the 2008 season. Perez pitched 194, the second-highest total of his career.
The club sees a second potential benefit in Lowe. It suspects that he would be a positive influence on Pelfrey, who like Lowe, makes his living with ground-ball outs. Pelfrey emerged as a more consistent pitcher last summer. He produced an 11-5 record in his final 20 starts after winning six games and losing 15 in his first 29 starts in the big leagues.
Lowe produced a 14-11 record and a 3.24 ERA for the Dodgers last season. When the free-agent market opened in November, he was widely thought to be seeking a five-year deal for what the Mets characterized as "Barry Zito money" -- $18 million annually. The Mets have assessed Lowe's value to them and established their ceiling. If Lowe's price exceeds that figure, Perez becomes a more viable alternative.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.