Originally created 10/25/98

Piazza, Mets agree on $91 million



NEW YORK -- The New York Mets made sure Mike Piazza will stay behind the plate. Now, they must figure out what to do with Todd Hundley.

The Mets quickly took care of business with Piazza, reaching agreement with the All-Star catcher on a $91 million, seven-year contract, The Associated Press learned Saturday.

The deal, the richest in the sport's history, is expected to be announced by the Mets Monday, according to people in baseball.

Piazza, 30, hit .329 with 32 home runs and 111 RBIs for New York, Los Angeles and Florida this season.

Booed by Mets fans for much of the summer because of his lack of clutch hitting, he became a fan favorite down the stretch when he carried New York's bid for the NL wild-card spot. By the end of the season, Mets fans were imploring team management to shell out the big bucks needed to keep him.

Piazza and the Mets talked Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was eligible to file for free agency starting Thursday -- the day after the New York Yankees won the World Series -- but he did not. As it turned out, details of the deal already had been finalized.

The contract would be a record for total dollars and average per season, topping the $75 million, six-year contract that Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez started this season.

Piazza's contract appears to signal the Mets will attempt to trade Hundley, due to be paid $5.2 million next season and $6 million in 2000 as part of a $21 million, four-year contract he agreed to in January 1997.

Hundley also was an All-Star catcher before undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery in September 1997. He struggled when he came back this July, hitting only .161 with three homers, 12 RBIs and 55 strikeouts in 124 at-bats.

The Mets tried him in the outfield, but that experiment failed. Though he caught a few games in the stretch, he might not have much trade value until he proves again that he's an everyday player as a catcher.

Late last season, there was speculation that the Chicago Cubs, for whom his father, Randy, was a catcher, and Baltimore might be interested in Hundley.

Piazza's contract includes a limited no-trade clause. He and the Mets will agree at the start of each season on four teams to which Piazza could be dealt.

Piazza finished a $15 million, two-year contract this season. He was traded from Los Angeles to Florida in May after the Dodgers failed to reach agreement with him on a multiyear deal, and the Marlins traded him to the Mets a week later.

New York also is negotiating with pitcher Al Leiter, who wants to stay with the Mets. The sides were said to be close to a four-year deal worth about $8 million per year, but the deal was not expected to be finalized this weekend.

Piazza's deal figures to raise the prices of other free agents, most notably the Yankees' Bernie Williams, who had been seeking a seven-year deal worth at least $70 million.