Billy Wagner became the latest star to join the New York Mets, reaching a preliminary agreement yesterday on a four-year, $43 million contract only hours after first baseman Carlos Delgado was introduced at a Shea Stadium news conference.

Considered by many the top reliever on the free agent market, Wagner saved 38 games for Philadelphia last season. The Phillies offered just more than $30 million over three years to retain the 34-year-old left-hander, whose fastball has reached 100 mph.

The Phillies were set to increase the money at 4 p.m. Monday, but 45 minutes earlier they received a call from Wagner's agent informing them of the pitcher's decision.

"Three years we felt very comfortable with. Going to a fourth year as the Mets went to, we didn't feel that comfortable," Philadelphia General Manager Pat Gillick said.

New York spokesman Jay Horwitz declined to comment. Wagner must pass a physical, which likely will take place Tuesday, before the deal can be completed.

"The offers are moving at a rapid pace, so you never know what to expect," Gillick said. "So consequently, we were disappointed that Billy is not coming back to the Phillies but at the same time, you can't say you're shocked or surprised that something like this would happen."

The four-time all-star 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.

Lack of production at first base and a struggling closer in Braden Looper were two of the biggest deficiencies last season for the Mets, who faded in September and finished tied for third in the NL East at 83-79, seven games behind first-place Atlanta.

"These are two key acquisitions," Gillick said. "It's going to make them even more of a force to be dealt with in the East."

New York also has offers out to free agent catchers Bengie Molina and Ramon Hernandez.

Wagner's average salary will be the highest for a reliever, topping the $10.5 million Mariano Rivera is earning from the New York Yankees under a two-year contract that started last season.

Wagner went 4-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 75 appearances this year. He has 284 career saves.