Strickland Reeled Back In By Duquette, Mets

The brass of the New York Mets organization opted not to offer right-handed reliever Scott Strickland a contract by the Dec. 20 deadline, making him, at least temporarily, a free agent. General manager Jim Duquette didn't let that last for long, swaying him to accept a one-year deal worth $650,000.

In 2003 Strickland earned $950,000, but appeared in a career-low 19 games before needing Tommy John surgery on his elbow.

Currently he is targeting a return to the Shea Stadium mound sometime in late May.

As a result of the team deciding to non-tender him, the Mets were able to bypass the rule that forbids teams from cutting a player's salary by more than twenty percent.

"I'm glad we were able to work something out with Scott," Duquette said. "He is expected to pitch again around the middle of June and, knowing Scott, I'll bet it will be sooner."

There's no doubt that Strickland could be a key ingredient in the organization's future over the next few seasons. Though Duquette and manager Art Howe have stated they don't envision him occupying the closer's role, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could become one of the primary setup men if David Weathers is traded.

Coming into the 2004 season, the rubber-armed Weathers will continue to be one of Duquette's best bargaining chips. He is entering the walk-year off his contract and is the kind of veteran pitcher contenders throughout the league love to pick up at the July 31 trade deadline to bolster their pen for a stretch run.

If the Mets have fallen out of contention and make the decision to be sellers rather than buyers, Weathers is likely to be dealt for some prospects -- particularly if Strickland is able to return to his post-surgery form.

The twenty-seven-year-old Strickland went 0-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 19 games for the Mets last season before undergoing surgery on June 17.

Incentive clauses in his new deal could allow him to make an additional $300,000 in performance bonuses: $25,000 each for 35, 40 and 55 games; $35,000 for 45 games; $40,000 for 50 games; and $50,000 each for 60, 65 and 70 games.

Strickland is 12-21 over his career with a 3.28 ERA in 231 games with the Mets and Montreal Expos.

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