NEW YORK — Gary Sheffield stood in front of his locker hours before the Mets' 4-2 win over the Phillies and before his own ejection from the game, surrounded by media members, trying to explain away his one-day work stoppage and the story or his version of it regarding his contract extension hopes and waiver wire troubles.
Across the room, Billy Wagner put a mournful country music song on the large stereo next to his locker, then lowered it as it was his turn to face a different kind of music. One day after Wagner made a triumphant return to the mound, he had to answer questions about what may be his imminent departure.
While Sheffield was angry that the Mets wouldn't allow him to depart, Wagner seemed to give his blessing and an opening in his no-trade clause to facilitate a deal to send him to a contender with more use for a fireballing left-handed reliever with 385 career saves.
"I think that's what every player wants to do is play on a contender and have a shot to go to the World Series," he said. "Like we all know, I'm not getting any younger and the window's starting to shut. You want to have that chance, and take it if you get it."
Wagner was placed on waivers Wednesday, a formality until he pitched so well Thursday, hitting 96 on the radar gun as he set the Braves down in order in the eighth inning in his first major league appearance since Aug. 2, 2008. The Red Sox put a claim in on him and the teams have until Tuesday afternoon to make a deal.
Wagner is owed $1.7 million this season, the remainder of his $10.5 million salary, and he has a team option for $8 million next year with a $1 million buyout. So any team taking him inherits the $2.7 million obligation.
The Mets are seeking a much better prospect than the little they expected for Sheffield.
If the teams can't make a deal, the Mets could surrender him for no compensation to unload the remaining money on the contract, or they could pull him back from waivers. That would mean they could not trade him this season. If Wagner was at peace with the prospect of moving on — and why wouldn't he be since he admitted that he knows the organization wrote him off and never wanted him back until desperation (and a trade prospect) set in — Sheffield at least tried to portray the same sentiments.
Thursday, Sheffield met with GM Omar Minaya, upset that he had been placed on waivers and then pulled back, and unable to get a read on his future with the club. He asked out of the lineup and a person close to Sheffield said that he wanted to be released. He didn't get that — no surprise on a team with few drawing cards left this year.
"The first thing that crossed my mind was, you pulled me back, so that's good for me," Sheffield said. "That's good for me because I get to stay a Met this year and next year. So I asked him after that, 'OK, well, if you pulled me back and you're keeping me from going to a contending team, what's my future here?' And basically, I got a maybe, maybe not. So that's basically not much of a future.
"So after I thought about it, I went back to Jerry (Manuel) and I told Jerry, 'I need a day to clear my head,' because after I thought about it, it didn't make sense to me. It kind of baffled me a bit. Why would you hold on to me, not allow me to go play on a contending team? It just was confusing to me."
Minaya said that the Mets were not going to give Sheffield away, not in a trade and not by releasing him.
"It's a situation where we're trying to win as many games as we can," Minaya said.
"And if a team wants to claim a player and not give us what we feel is value for the player, I have a responsibility to the manager and to the players that are here to win as many games as possible, and also to the fans."
Sheffield and Minaya both insisted that after a night to sleep on it, all was well again. Sheffield said he realized he had to show his loyalty to his teammates and Minaya said he expected Sheffield to remain a Met, a well-behaved Met, the rest of the season well, maybe after Friday's ejection for flipping his bat on a called third strike by home plate ump Bob Drake.
"He's just got to go out there and play," Minaya said.
"We're just not ready to make decisions as far as next year."