NEW YORK -- A day after the Mets' shocking Game 7 loss to the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, as the players were clearing out their lockers, Tom Glavine and Mets COO Jeff Wilpon quietly forged a gentlemen's agreement for the offseason: Neither side would pick up the dual option on Glavine's 2007 contract, allowing him to explore a possible return to the Braves.
No one at Shea Stadium was really worried; there was no intellectual reason for Glavine to leave, the Mets said privately. Yet, a month has passed and he still hasn't made a choice. In fact, Glavine told the New York Post recently there was only a "50-50" chance of his return to the Mets.
While team executives still believe Glavine's coming back, the fact that he's moving so slowly and seems so torn has forced them to contemplate Plan B, which would be chasing (and overpaying) Barry Zito.
"We're pretty sure Tom is going to end up back with us, but he could surprise us," one senior official admitted. "All we can do is wait."
The Mets will have to be a little more patient, as Glavine is spending the Thanksgiving holiday weighing his options. By next week, the pros and cons should be sufficiently clear.
The Mets say they have two powerful factors working in their favor. First is the organization's meteoric rise -- their 97 wins was tops in the NL, with the kind of momentum that projects for the next three to four seasons. One club official said, "It's hot to be a Met right now. We've got a good thing going on here. A couple of years ago, we couldn't get Henry Blanco to come here, and that was even after we offered him more money than anyone else. He still said no. That's all changed."
The Mets are further stacking the deck by offering Glavine a full no-trade clause, something the Braves have thus far been unwilling to do for their free agents.
So what, exactly, is making Glavine's decision so difficult?
It's not money, nor is it the temptation of retirement -- not this close to 300 wins. Instead, it's Glavine's family that has made the decision so complicated, and that's one reason the Mets have been so accommodating. As general manager Omar Minaya said, "At the end of the day, Tom has to do what's best for his family, and we understand that."
Apparently, Glavine's clan wants to stay home in Atlanta, and even if he's made the internal decision to be a Met next summer, he's nevertheless allowing the Braves to take their best shot at changing his mind. It won't be easy, considering Glavine and GM John Schuerholz have had a difficult, if not contentious relationship, in recent years.
It all started with the executive's book -- "Born to Win" -- which revealed that Glavine had a "purgatory of second thoughts" after signing with the Mets in December, 2002. The veteran was furious at what he considered a betrayal of confidence and how it compromised him with his present-day employers and fan base. Glavine and Schuerholz have since reconciled, but the degree of trust between the two men will forever be impossible to quantify.
So, too, is just how comfortable the Braves can make Glavine, considering their philosophic opposition to no-trade clauses. This is especially poignant as Glavine approaches his 300th victory next year. One member of his camp said, "What's to stop the Braves from shipping him out a week after he wins [No. 300] to some small market, if they're out of the race by July?"
It's for these reasons the Mets have yet to laser in on Zito; that's how firmly they believe Glavine will ultimately choose New York. But there's also an in-house timetable in play: If Glavine hasn't made a decision by the end of the winter meetings, which conclude on Dec. 7, they'll start seriously calculating what it would cost to sign Zito.
Actually, the Mets have every belief they could snare the free-agent left-hander off the market if they so desired. They can offer cash (agent Scott Boras recently labeled the Mets, with their own cable network and soon-to-be-built new stadium, a "juggernaut"), the spotlight and the chance to renew a professional relationship with Rick Peterson, who was Zito's pitching coach in Oakland.
But not even Zito's arrival would mean the end of the Mets' pitching crisis, which began with news that Pedro Martinez is out at least until midsummer. The fact that the Mets were second in the Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes (posting a bid of $38 million, $7 million more than the Yankees) signified their need for a hard-throwing righty to complement their left-handers' finesse. Whether Glavine stays (or goes), and even if the Mets sign Zito, they can't go into the season with John Maine as their most reliable right-hander.
That's why they'd like to add Javier Vazquez, or, if that fails, hurry along Mike Pelfrey's development -- anything, anyone, to give the Mets a fastball alternative to Zito's curves and Glavine's changeups. Plan C addresses that need, too, acquiring a righty via trade, which could explain why the Mets were so eager to sign Moises Alou and why, suddenly, Lastings Milledge is being made available to inquiring GMs.
All these scenarios will resolve themselves in the next four to six weeks. But first things first: The Mets need an answer from Glavine. The longer he waits, the more anxious the vigil, the more pressing the question: What, exactly, is on his mind?
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.