Leiter closer to staying

The Mets are nearing a deal with lefthander Al Leiter and show interest in infielder Chris Woodward, in Monday's Mets Inside Pitch roundup:

The Mets are moving closer to a deal that will allow Al Leiter to complete his career with the team he grew up rooting for, according to a report in Monday's New York Daily News.

There has been a fair amount of speculation as to what the Mets were planning to do with regard to Leiter, a popular Met who could have drawn interest from any number of clubs as a lower-level starter. Some reports even indicated that Leiter might agree to sign on as a long reliever on a powerhouse team like the Yankees or Red Sox.

The Mets could have exercised a $10 million option on Leiter for the 2005 season, but that seemed like a hefty investment for a pitcher who turned 39 this season and often had trouble working into deep innings.

Leiter was 10-8 with a 3.21 ERA in 30 starts this year and said on numerous occasions that he would like to stay in New York, despite a clubhouse atmosphere that he characterized as increasingly "depressing."

According to Monday's report, the Mets have been moving toward securing Leiter at a significantly lower price tag than his club option would have offered, freeing up more of their budget for other pursuits.

The Mets will decline a $15 million option on outfielder Richard Hidalgo shortly, paying a $2 million buyout, and could pursue Hidalgo on the free-agent market – the Mets have also been linked to trade discussions for Chicago's Sammy Sosa and are expected to finalize a multi-year deal soon with righthander Kris Benson.

Woodward, Koch on the radar

The Mets have expressed early interest in free agent Chris Woodward, according to the New York Post. Woodward hit .235 with one homer and 24 RBI for the Blue Jays this season and could be utilized in a utility role, the newspaper notes.

However, the Mets have Joe McEwing and Jeff Keppinger under contract for 2005, the latter of whom is working out this winter at three infield positions and all of the outfield positions to give himself a better shot to make the team out of spring training.

The newspaper also speculates that the Mets may give a look to troubled closer Billy Koch, who had his best year under pitching coach Rick Peterson in Oakland in 2002. Since then, it's been a rough ride for Koch, who lost his job with the White Sox and wasn't much of a factor this year for the Marlins.

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