New York Blocked from pursuing Lou Piniella and unsure that Dusty Baker would be interested, the New York Mets turned to Art Howe as their new manager.
A baseball source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that Howe has agreed to a four-year, $9.4 million contract. The move will be announced formally next week, after the World Series.
Commissioner Bud Selig ordered teams not to make major announcements during the Series.
The agreement with Howe completes a bizarre managerial soap opera that involved the Mets, Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
After finishing in last place despite a $95 million payroll, the Mets fired Bobby Valentine with one year left on his contract on Oct. 1 and entered the managerial marketplace. Their top targets were Seattle's Piniella and San Francisco's Baker. Oakland's Howe was not on their radar screen at the start of the search.
Piniella asked out of the final year of his Mariners contract, saying he wanted to manage closer to his home in Tampa, Fla. Coincidentally, the Devil Rays were without a manager after firing Hal McRae.
The Mariners agreed to let Piniella talk to other teams, provided they received compensation. The Devil Rays and Mets sought permission, but Seattle granted it only to cash-starved Tampa Bay, which had been considered an also-ran in this chase. The Devil Rays managed to strike a deal with Seattle, paving the way for talks with Piniella. That was when Howe first became an option for New York.
Even though he still had a year to go on his contract, Oakland agreed to let him talk to the Mets with no compensation requirement.
With no one else to talk to, Piniella and agent Alan Nero talked to Tampa and reportedly agreed to a four-year, $13 million contract with the Devil Rays. That left the Mets with a choice: either wait on Baker or go elsewhere.
The Mets chose Howe, also represented by Nero. They met Wednesday and agreed on a contract.
Also affected by the Howe move was Oakland bench coach Ken Macha, another Nero client, who had interviewed with the Mets as well as the Cubs, Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers. He reportedly will get an opportunity to stay as the team's new manager for $1 million, slightly less than what Howe was making.
The bottom line is this: Howe doubles his salary by moving to New York. The Mets shell out $5 million $2.3 to Howe for managing and $2.7 to Valentine for not managing. And Tampa Bay plunges into the high-priced marketplace with its $3.3 million commitment to Piniella.
Howe guided Oakland to this season's AL West title and three straight playoff appearances.
After five years in Houston, Howe joined the Athletics before the 1996 season and is the third-winningest manager in franchise history.
His team won 103 games this season but lost a five-game playoff to Minnesota, the third straight year Oakland has been eliminated in the first round.