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MIAMI (AP) -- Armando Benitez agreed to a $3.5 million, one-year contract with the Florida Marlins late Saturday night, a move which prompted the team not to offer a deal to former closer Braden Looper.

 

Benitez had 21 saves last season for the New York Mets before being traded to the Yankees in July. The Yankees dealt him to Seattle three weeks later.

 

The signing is contingent on Benitez passing a physical, Marlins spokesman Steve Copses said.

 

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``We think this guy has a great arm,'' Florida general manager Admin Beinfest said. ``We think Looper has a great arm, too. But Armando is an established closer, and we think he can flourish with our club.''

 

The right-hander was the Mets' closer since 1999, saving 160 games in 185 chances and representing them on this year's All-Star team. He blew six of his 10 postseason save chances while with the Mets, a major league record.

 

Florida also agreed to a $2.5 million, one-year contract with right-hander A.J. Burnett and a $6.2 million, two-year contract with shortstop Alex Gonzalez., a deal that pays him $2.8 million next season and $3.4 million in 2005.

 

The deadline to offer contracts to unsigned players on 40-man rosters was midnight Saturday.

 

Beinfest said keeping Gonzalez -- who had just 16 errors in 678 chances last season -- was important in terms of defense, one of the Marlins' strengths last season.

 

``We think we have one of the best defenses in the game,'' Beinfest said.

 

Starting pitchers Brad Penny and Carl Pavano were offered contracts by the deadline. Beinfest said he hopes both players are signed before the exchange of proposed arbitration figures on Jan. 18.

 

Relievers Armando Almanza and Toby Borland were not offered deals and became free agents. Florida is hoping Borland will accept a minor-league deal, Beinfest said.

 

Looper converted 28 of 34 save chances for the Marlins last season, during which he was 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA in 74 games.

 

He was stellar before the All-Star break, going 4-2 with a 2.28 ERA and closed out 17 of his 20 save chances. But after the Marlins acquired Ugueth Urbina on July 11, Looper struggled, perhaps sensing correctly that his role was in jeopardy.

 

He was 2-2 with a 6.14 ERA after the All-Star break, and opponents batted .291 against him, 44 points higher than they managed pre-break. In the postseason, he was 2-0 with one save and an ERA of 5.14.

 

Gonzalez hit .256 with 18 home runs and 77 RBIs last season, but was wildly inconsistent.

 

On June 20, Gonzalez was hitting .328 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs, while striking out only 37 times. But in his final 83 games of the regular season, he hit just .192 with six homers, 27 RBIs and 69 strikeouts.

 

The offensive struggles continued in the postseason, with Gonzalez hitting only .161 with 16 strikeouts in 62 at-bats. With one swing, though, he atoned for many problems; a walk-off home run in Game 4 of the World Series gave the Marlins a 4-3, 12-inning win and provided them with a boost of momentum that carried them through Games 5 and 6 to clinch the title.

 

Penny was 14-10 with a 4.13 ERA in 32 starts last season for Florida, getting 138 strikeouts against only 56 walks in 196 1-3 innings. He won both of his starts against the Yankees in the World Series, and went 3-1 overall during the postseason.

 

Pavano was 12-13 for Florida last season, but flourished in pitcher-friendly Pro Player Stadium, going 9-4 with a 3.44 ERA in the Marlins' home park -- more than two runs lower than his road ERA.

 

And in the postseason, he was 2-0 in eight appearances (two starts), with a team-best 1.40 ERA. He held the Yankees to one run in eight innings in Game 4 of the World Series, easily handling the pressure of both baseball's biggest stage and opposing Roger Clemens in what is expected to be the six-time Cy Young winner's final start.

 

The Marlins have traded pitcher Mark Redman, first baseman Derrek Lee and outfielder Juan Encarnacion, plus parted ways with catcher Ivan Rodriguez, Looper and Urbina during this offseason

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