Mets introduce Wagner at Shea

NEW YORK – Billy Wagner's press extravaganza at Shea Stadium started about 15 minutes behind schedule Tuesday, but that was of no great alarm to the Mets.

In fact, their hope is that Wagner will continue to come in late, time and time again, over the next several seasons.

One day after hosting a get-together for Carlos Delgado, their savvy slugger from Puerto Rico, the Mets turned their Big Apple stage over to Wagner, a good ol' country boy who favors a chaw of tobacco to go along with his 100 MPH fastball.

The new owner of a four-year, $43 million contract with an option for 2010, Wagner isn't worried about fulfilling the Mets' wishes for him to lock down the club's closer role. His main concern will be navigating New York's city streets.

"I'm not going to be totally comfortable the first day after spring training when we get here," Wagner admits. "I'll have to drive home in the dark and still don't know where I'm going.

"But I do know the one place I'll feel comfortable, and that'll be on the mound."

The 34-year-old Wagner saved 38 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005, posting a 1.51 ERA in 75 appearances, and opened the Mets' eyes as a potential import to replace Braden Looper.

Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said that immediately following the season's conclusion, Mets GM Omar Minaya and members of his support staff identified Wagner as the premier relief acquisition available, with lefty B.J. Ryan – who went on to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays – marked as a second choice.

"We felt," Minaya said, "when you look at Billy Wagner – look at what he's done, look at his stats, look at the fact he's a free agent – he is definitely, in our eyes, worth that contract. He deserves that contract."

A father of three who operates his own alpaca farm near Charlottesville, Va., breeding and distributing the hair of the even-keeled llama relative, Wagner said accepting a long-term deal in New York needed some selling.

The Mets' pitch and tour promotion last week went a long way to quell any fears. After reviewing a DVD created by the Mets' marketing department, Wagner and his wife, Sarah, toured Manhattan and went house-hunting in Westchester County with Tom Glavine, Jeff Wilpon and their wives.

Wagner also felt more at home after Jim Plummer – "the secret weapon," Minaya called him – stopped by the GM's office at Shea Stadium. A longtime employee in the Mets' promotions department, Plummer grew up 45 minutes from the pitcher in Marion, Va. and is friendly with Wagner's uncle.

"I thought it was going to be two minutes," said the 54-year-old Plummer, a Mets lifer who began his career as a batboy for the club in 1965. "It ended up being 30."

"I guess some things are meant to happen," Wagner said. "It seems like all roads kind of led to New York."

After using the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to mull offers, Wagner came to the stone-cold conclusion that the Mets were going to be his new club on Monday.

He cancelled a conference call with the Boston Red Sox, believing that the length of the Mets' offer and its blanket no-trade clause would be the best possible deal he could sign.

"I wasn't looking for the world," Wagner said. "When they said four years with a fifth year option, that was more than I expected anyway. They took charge and made it tough for me to turn down."

In signing the deal, Wagner leaves the Phillies, whom he said he'd approached with a three-year, $24 million extension proposal at the All-Star Break. Wagner said the Phillies "laughed at me," and questioned the club's desire to win over being merely competitive.

"I talked to a lot of guys on the Phillies," Wagner said. "I think they all understood that it's not about them. It's about trying to be on the best team, and trying to win a World Series.

"I want the best opportunity to be a part of something special, and this was the right place to be."

STAFF SWITCH: Mets manager Willie Randolph said Tuesday that coaches Sandy Alomar, Sr. and Jerry Manuel will switch roles for 2006, with Alomar taking over as first-base coach and Manuel becoming Randolph's bench coach.

"This fits better for what we're doing," Randolph said. "I think Sandy brings more to the table on the basepaths."

ODDS ARE: As a result of the acquisitions of Delgado and Wagner, announced the Mets' World Series odds have jumped from 25-1 to 10-1. The Yankees are still a favorite at 4-1.

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