Mets head west in Zito pursuit

The Mets will pay a house visit to Barry Zito on Tuesday, the team's clearest sign yet that they intend to pursue the free agent left-hander.

Multiple reports indicated that chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, general manager Omar Minaya and assistants John Ricco and Tony Bernazard are headed for Southern California, planning a meeting with Zito and agent Scott Boras in Los Angeles.

The in-person contact is believed to be the first between the Mets and Zito's camp since the MLB Winter Meetings earlier this month in Orlando.

At that time, Minaya was continuing to downplay the Mets' interest in Zito while consistently stating that the organization is always looking for pitching, something of a contradiction considering Zito is widely regarded as the top free agent pitcher available on the market this winter.

At the Mets' holiday party last week, Minaya did not deny the Mets' interest in Zito, but said the team could survive if they did not land the prized southpaw.

"Is he a guy we'd like to have?" Minaya said. "We're definitely going to talk to his agent. But if it doesn't make sense, we're comfortable with our starting pitching and our overall pitching."

Boras is believed to be seeking a six-year commitment for the 28-year-old Zito, who was 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA for Oakland this year. The Mets are believed to be more in the ballpark of five years and $73 million, which is the package they would have offered Roy Oswalt, had a three-way deal with the Houston Astros been completed in July.

There had been speculation that the Mets could bring Zito to New York for a tour of Shea Stadium and Manhattan, with third baseman David Wright volunteering to personally guide Zito around the Big Apple at last week's team holiday party.

In fact, Wright even seemed to be indirectly daring Zito to turn down any offer from the Mets.

"I couldn't imagine somebody that didn't want to come and be a part of what we have going on right now in this city," Wright said. "You read all the articles about just the chemistry and stuff. So in my eyes you'd have to be crazy not to want to come here."

Some might speculate the Mets could be at a disadvantage considering Zito's absence in New York -- he toured Ameriquest Field, the home of the Texas Rangers, prior to the Winter Meetings.

But after years of visiting town as a member of the Oakland Athletics, the eclectic Zito is arguably well-versed with New York and its vibrant entertainment opportunities.

As for Minaya, he has played the house-visit card before, and won. Minaya spent Thanksgiving 2004 at the home of free agent Pedro Martinez in the Dominican Republic, and personally went to Carlos Beltran in Puerto Rico that same winter.

"At some point, I like to look them in the eye," Minaya has said.

In seven Major League seasons, Zito holds a 102-63 record with a 3.55 ERA.

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