Mets retain DeJean, lose Leiter, Hidalgo

NEW YORK – Al Leiter, Richard Hidalgo and Ricky Bottalico are now officially done as Mets. Mike DeJean will hang around. <P>

With one fell swoop of moves, prompted by Tuesday's midnight deadline for offering arbitration to free agents, the Mets now begin to see just how much work lies ahead as the winter meetings draw near.

The Mets' parting with Leiter had been considered a done deal for weeks, as both sides walked away from each other just before Thanksgiving. However, the Mets had still been hopeful of coming to a deal with Hidalgo, who would have been capable of playing either corner outfield position if the team deals Cliff Floyd.

With GM Omar Minaya in the Dominican Republic checking up on infielder Jose Reyes and righthander Alay Soler – and possibly meeting with Pedro Martinez, who would replace Leiter in the team's rotation, on the sly – the Mets dispatched lieutenant Jim Duquette to negotiate the terms of a possible one-year deal with Peter Greenberg, agent for the 29-year-old Hidalgo.

However, negotiations crumbled just before the midnight deadline, with Hidalgo now likely to accept an offer from an American League team.

"We negotiated long and hard, but we were not able to agree on a contract with Richard," Duquette said. "We will continue to explore our options to strengthen our outfield, whether it be by trade of free agency."

Hidalgo has battled groin problems over the last two seasons, and when the pain flared up late this season, it killed his offensive numbers – Hidalgo hit just .114 in September, dropping his statistics to a .239 average with 25 homers and 82 RBI for the season.

The only move the Mets got done Tuesday was a one-year, $1.15 million contract with DeJean, a relief pitcher who had a 1.69 ERA in 17 games for the Mets this year.

"I'm thrilled to come back," said DeJean. "I just was examined by a doctor [Monday], I'm 100 percent healthy and I look forward to working with Rick Peterson again. I hear nothing but good things about Willie Randolph and I can't wait to meet him."

The Mets still appear intent on dealing Floyd this winter and aren't hot to trot on the idea of playing 22-year-old Victor Diaz as their everyday right fielder, which means the club could be likely to make a run at a free agent during this weekend's winter meetings.

Magglio Ordonez continues to linger on the Mets' radar, but it is 38-year-old Moises Alou – fresh off a 39 homer, 106 RBI season with the Chicago Cubs – who has received the most chatter of late.

The Mets also have a void to fill at first base and should continue to explore free agents Carlos Delgado and Richie Sexson this weekend.

Mets Notes

Of interest to the Mets, free agent C Henry Blanco inked a two-year deal with the Cubs on Tuesday. The Mets had been pursuing Blanco as a possible replacement for either Vance Wilson or Jason Phillips, or both.

The other Mets not to be offered salary arbitration were LHP John Franco, 1B Mo Vaughn and 1B Todd Zeile. It is possible that all three will officially retire, although Franco says that he has offers to pitch elsewhere.

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