The Mets and John Smoltz aren't quite ready to announce a new partnership, but increased momentum toward such a union exists as the Mets search for pitching help and Smoltz, 42, looks for a team with which he can continue his Hall of Fame-caliber career.
Lonnie Cooper, Smoltz's representative, told Newsday Thursday that he has been in touch with the Mets regarding a deal for Smoltz. Although the Mets haven't made an official offer to the righthander, they have expressed enthusiasm about bringing him aboard, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
Smoltz, likewise, is encouraged by the Mets' interest, according to a source familiar with the situation.
It's believed that Smoltz wants a deal for about $4 million guaranteed, plus performance bonuses. Cooper said Smoltz is preparing to pitch for the entire season and is not contemplating the half-season run that Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez have popularized in recent years.
"At John's age right now, he's going to know when it's the right deal," Cooper said. "We're just having good dialogue. We're looking at all of our options."
Smoltz, who lives in the Atlanta area, doesn't want to pitch too far from home; he turned down feelers from West Coast teams earlier this offseason. He also would prefer to stay in the National League after his 2009 stay with the Red Sox resulted in his release.
He wanted to return to the Cardinals, who signed him to finish out last season. St. Louis, however, hasn't expressed serious interest in re-signing Smoltz.
"We're getting a lot of calls," Cooper said, but the Mets might be the best positioned to sign their former rival Brave. They have an opening in their rotation, geographical proximity and at least the intention of contending for a playoff spot. Those chances at contending, of course, have taken a hit because of the Mets' failure to sign any of the top free-agent starting pitchers this offseason.
Ultimately, the Mets could land Smoltz for the same reason they signed Jason Bay: They might be his best option by far.
If the Mets sign Smoltz, they could use their current fifth starter, Fernando Nieve, as a reliever and give more time to recovering youngster Jon Niese, who tore his right hamstring last August. And if the Mets falter again despite success by Smoltz, they could trade him to a pennant contender in the season's second half.