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Mets and Wagner are in agreement

Ace closer Billy Wagner and the New York Mets reached preliminary agreement yesterday on a $43 million, four-year contract.

Wagner, considered by many the top reliever on the free agent market, saved 38 games for Philadelphia last season and is a four-time All-Star. The Phillies offered just more than $30 million over three years to retain the 34-year-old lefthander and were prepared to enhance the proposal yesterday -- but not increase the length.

''Going to a fourth year as the Mets went to, we didn't feel that comfortable," Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said.

New York spokesman Jay Horwitz declined comment. Gillick said Wagner's agent, Bean Stringfellow, called the Phillies yesterday afternoon to inform them of Wagner's decision.

''We were disappointed," Gillick said. ''At the same time, you can't say you're shocked or surprised that something like this would happen."

Wagner will receive $10.5 million in each of the next four seasons, a high-ranking baseball official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

The Mets have an $8 million club option for 2010 with a $1 million buyout. If exercised, the deal would be worth $50 million over five seasons. Wagner must pass a physical, which is likely to take place today, before the agreement can be completed.

New York reached the agreement on the same day it introduced slugger Carlos Delgado, acquired last week in a trade with the Florida Marlins, an NL East rival like the Phillies.

In the news conference, Delgado said that now that he's been traded to the Mets, he is willing to stand on the field during the playing of ''God Bless America" despite his anti-war stance.

While playing for the Toronto Blue Jays and then with the Marlins last year, Delgado avoided standing on the field when ''God Bless America" was played.

''The reason . . . was because I didn't like the way they tied 'God Bless America' and 9/11 to the war in Iraq, in baseball," he said when he joined the Marlins in January.

The busy Mets also purchased the contract of outfielder Tike Redman from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

A's sign Loaiza

The Oakland Athletics and free agent righthander Esteban Loaiza agreed to a three-year contract worth $21,375,000, adding an experienced pitcher to a starting rotation that already includes Barry Zito and Rich Harden. The deal includes a 2009 club option on Loaiza, a 12-game winner with the Washington Nationals last season. His victory total was the second-best in the 33-year-old Loaiza's 11-year major league career -- he won 21 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2003. Loaiza joins a team that has almost its entire roster returning from last season, when the A's failed to reach the playoffs for the second straight year. Oakland had a 91-win season in 2004 and 88 victories this year. After a slow start by its young rotation, Oakland pitched well down the stretch thanks to impressive performances by rookie Joe Blanton and Dan Haren, a 14-game winner in his first full season as a starter. Loaiza was 12-10 with a 3.77 ERA in 34 starts last season, striking out 173 and walking 55 in 217 innings. A two-time All-Star, he bounced back from a 1-4 start this year to go 11-6 with a 3.86 ERA in his 23 outings after June 1. Loaiza's deal includes a $3 million signing bonus with a spread-out payment schedule and yearly salaries of $5 million, $6 million, and $7 million. The A's have a $7.5 million option for 2009 with a $375,000 buyout . . . B.J. Ryan and the Blue Jays finalized a $47 million, five-year contract, the largest deal for a relief pitcher in baseball history. Ryan, a lefthander who turns 30 Dec. 28, has 42 career saves, including 36 last season for the Baltimore Orioles. Ryan converted 36 of 41 save chances for Baltimore last season, going 1-4 with a 2.43 ERA. He struck out 100 and walked 26 in 70 innings and earned $2,825,000.

14 on Hall ballot

The 2006 candidates for the Hall of Fame were announced, a group that includes Cy Young Award winners Orel Hershiser and Dwight Gooden. Albert Belle, Will Clark, and former Chicago White Sox player and now manager Ozzie Guillen were among 14 first-time candidates on the 29-man ballot. Bruce Sutter is the holdover who came closest to election, falling 43 votes shy last year, and Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, who has come close several times, also is on the ballot. Other first-year candidates include pitchers Rick Aguilera, Alex Fernandez, Doug Jones and John Wetteland and infielders Gary DiSarcina, Gary Gaetti, Gregg Jefferies, Hal Morris, and Walt Weiss. Pete Rose's eligibility now has expired . . . Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada says he isn't mad at former teammate Rafael Palmeiro for involving him in a steroids scandal. Palmeiro was suspended in August after testing positive for steroids. He said Tejada gave him vitamin B-12, and suggested it might have been tainted with performance-enhancing drugs. ''I don't hold a grudge against Palmeiro," Tejada said from his native Dominican Republic. ''I only tried to help him because he looked tired and wasn't eating well. Sometimes being a good person is bad." Palmeiro denies he intentionally took steroids. ''I only gave him B-12 vitamins. [Baseball officials] checked it out and everything was cleared," Tejada said . . . Blue Jays bench coach Ernie Whitt was selected to manage Canada's team at the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March . . . The World Series champion White Sox will play the season opener Sunday, April 2, against the Cleveland Indians.

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