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LORIA to meet with Delgado!


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The Mets outbid the Boston Red Sox to sign starter Pedro Mart?nez and the Houston Astros to sign outfielder Carlos Beltran. But as they try to add a third prized free agent this winter, the Mets have a National League East rival standing in the way.


That rival, the Florida Marlins, is serious about signing Carlos Delgado, a free-agent first baseman who has spent his 12-year career with the Toronto Blue Jays. According to a person who has been briefed on the negotiations, the Marlins' owner, Jeffrey Loria, plans to cut short a trip to France to meet with Delgado in Miami this weekend. Delgado will fly in from Puerto Rico for the meeting.


"They're making a very strong push this weekend to see if they can get it done," the person said.


The Mets are also taking an aggressive approach to Delgado. They will hold a news conference in Puerto Rico today to show off Beltran, a Puerto Rico native who signed for seven years and $119 million on Tuesday.


A Mets contingent including General Manager Omar Minaya and Tony Bernazard, an assistant to Minaya, will be there and hopes to visit Delgado as well. David Sloane, Delgado's agent, said late yesterday afternoon that a meeting had not yet been arranged.


Beltran is a friend of Delgado's, and after signing with the Mets, he called Delgado to tell him. "He was very happy about it," Beltran said yesterday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "I hope we can sign him, because we need a first baseman."


Beltran's news conference today will be at noon in San Juan, and Delgado will make a charity appearance in that city at 8 p.m. But Beltran did not invite Delgado to his news conference.


"I'm not going to invite him because I don't want to put pressure on him," Beltran said. "I want him to make the decision that's best for him the same way I did it. He knows what is best for him and he will make the right decision no matter what."


Sloane suggested that Delgado was encouraged by the Mets' spending spree.


"The call was obviously a nice thing, but the signing was the important thing," Sloane said, referring to Beltran's contract. "A call doesn't really take much. But him signing there obviously changes the landscape for everybody. Other ball clubs have to sit up and take notice, and obviously Carlos is going to sit up and take notice as well."


Sloane did not comment on the meeting with the Marlins, but an obvious problem for Florida would be meeting Delgado's price. He is coming off a four-year, $68 million deal and could command a five-year contract worth $75 million. The Marlins' opening offer was reportedly for three years and more than $30 million.


But the Marlins could increase their offer in the hope that Delgado would help rally support for public financing of a new stadium. If Loria decided to sell the team, a prospective buyer could view Delgado's long-term contract as an asset.


Losing Delgado to the Marlins could severely affect the Mets' chances in the N.L. East. The Marlins, who were 83-79 and third in the East last year, could install Delgado as their cleanup hitter, after Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo and Miguel Cabrera and before Mike Lowell. The Marlins also signed their catcher, Paul Lo Duca, to a three-year, $18 million contract extension yesterday.


Delgado has never played in the postseason, and the Marlins, who won the 2003 World Series, might give him a better chance than the Mets, the Baltimore Orioles or the Texas Rangers, who are all pursuing him. Yesterday in El Vocero, a newspaper in Puerto Rico, Delgado said that winning would be more important to him than location.


"I go to the United States to play ball," he said. "I don't go there thinking that it's a question of being more relaxed in a certain place. It's not a question of where I would be more 'chilling.' It's all about a team that's a contender; that is the major obligation. That is what will influence."



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