Gooden's contract pitch picks up speed, thanks to Clemens' five-year deal


NEW YORK -- Sometime today or tomorrow, Dwight Gooden expects a phone call from the New York Mets. He assumes vice president Al Harazin will say "never mind" to the Mets' latest contract offer, which was mailed before Roger Clemens signed a five-year deal for $21.5 million.

Gooden knows the Mets are no longer in a position to negotiate. They must match -- or at least "come close," Gooden said -- to Clemens' wealth. If not, Gooden stands firm: Without a deal by Feb. 22, he tests free agency next winter.

"Now we'll see how the Mets really feel about me. The numbers are out there. The ball's in their court now," Gooden said by telephone yesterday. "Me and Roger are just about the same in every category, so the Mets have to know what I'm looking for. We'll see if they want to get it done or not."

Gooden met yesterday with agent Jim Neader to discuss any new asking price. But actually, Gooden said his numbers remain the same; Clemens' contract only solidified Gooden's position. Gooden, however, may decide to ask for a five-year deal like the Red Sox ace, but that, Gooden said, "depends on what me and Jim feel is best. We'll see."

The Mets were initially believed to be offering Gooden a two-year extension, for $4 million per. Gooden never responded, so the Mets were believed to have extended their offer to $4 million per for four years -- or more precisely, a three-year extension.

But Clemens' five-year deal badly weakened the Mets' position. If Gooden decides he wants five years, the Mets must break club policy to accommodate him. Yet if Gooden and Frank Viola are awarded five-year deals, Harazin and Frank Cashen will have to explain why Darryl Strawberry was allowed to leave New York with only a four-year deal as the Mets' last offer.

Length of contract aside, Gooden insisted that Clemens' $21.5 million didn't alter his own asking price. "I was happy to hear what Roger got, but not shocked," Gooden said yesterday from his home in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Just look at some of the people out there earning $3 million a year: guys like [Bud] Black, [Mike] Boddicker, [Mark] Langston. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out what I'm worth."

Of course, Viola stands to benefit just like Gooden. Both are eligible for free agency after the '91 season, as their respective three-year $7.9 million and $6.7 million contracts expire.

Those numbers look pale today. Give Gooden another week, and we'll know how rich he'll be. Actually, the suspense is over: $5 million per. It says so right above Roger Clemens' signature.

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