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Mets welcome right fielder's pop to lineup

HOUSTON -- Hoping to help their sagging offense, the New
York Mets acquired right fielder Richard Hidalgo from the Houston
Astros on Thursday for right-handers David Weathers and Jeremy
Griffiths.

Hidalgo has put up big numbers in the past, but he was in the
midst of a disappointing season with the Astros. He recently lost
his starting job to Jason Lane, and soon after went to general
manager Gerry Hunsicker and asked to be traded.

"We're pleased to have him," Mets manager Art Howe said. "I
know what he can do. He's a run-producer, an outstanding right
fielder. He hasn't played on a regular basis. He'll get that
opportunity here. It's a fresh start for him. I know he's a good
middle-of-the-order hitter."

Weathers adds an experienced middle reliever to Houston's
bullpen, which is in desperate need of help there. The Mets also
get $4 million from the Astros as part of the deal to offset the
difference in salaries.

The 28-year-old Hidalgo is batting .256 with four homers and 30
RBIs, a huge drop-off from last year's .309 average with 28 home
runs and 88 RBIs. He was voted the Astros' MVP in 2003.

Hidalgo had been in Houston's organization since he was signed
out of Venezuela at age 16 in 1991.

"I love it here. This is like my second home," he said. "This
is my first time being traded. It's a business. I don't have any
control about it."

This could be the first of several moves for the slumping
Astros, who entered Thursday night fifth in the NL Central. Houston
had lost 20 of 32, dropping to 33-31.

Hidalgo's struggles at the plate were symptomatic of the team's
overall problems on offense -- the Astros had been held to fewer
than five runs for 15 straight games.

"We're not going to watch what we've been watching all year,"
Hunsicker said. "We're going to try to create a spark."

New York will probably put Hidalgo in the middle of the lineup,
hoping he can provide some needed protection for Mike Piazza and
Cliff Floyd. Hidalgo is expected to join the Mets in time for
Friday night's game against Detroit.

Hidalgo is still owed $6.62 million of his $12 million salary
this season, and the Mets inherit a $15 million option for 2005.
But they're almost sure to decline that and pay a $2 million
buyout.

"Fifteen million is a difficult salary," Mets general manager
Jim Duquette said. "You could exercise the buyout and then
renegotiate from there if he plays well enough and he likes it
here. We'll keep an open mind."

Weathers is owed $1.99 million of his $3.6 million salary this
year. Hunsicker acknowledged that financial considerations played a
role in Houston's decision to seek a trade.

"The bottom line is that we will save $3 million on (Hidalgo's)
contract," Hunsicker said. "Another reason was for Richard's
benefit. He's a proud, competitive person. It was going to be tough
for him sitting on the bench."

The Mets, who entered Thursday ranked 15th out of 16 NL teams in
hitting (.248) and runs (265), fired batting coach Denny Walling on
Tuesday. But New York (30-34) was only 5{ games behind first-place
Florida in the NL East.

"Our feeling is this gives us a better chance," Duquette said.
"That's not to say we were one player away, but it's an upgrade."

Shane Spencer and Karim Garcia, who had shared playing time in
right field, will now come off the bench for the Mets.

Weathers is 5-3 with a 4.28 ERA in 32 appearances.

"You give everything you've got, you hate to see it not bear
fruit. It's been a great 2½ years, a quick 2½ years," he said.
"I've never been on a team as close as this one."

When the Mets' clubhouse opened to reporters, the name plate
above Weathers' locker had already been replaced by that of
left-hander Pedro Feliciano, recalled from Triple-A Norfolk before
Thursday's game against Cleveland.

Weathers is expected to join the Astros on Saturday.

"I'll go down there and hope I can do a good job for those
guys, and we'll see what happens," he said. "They have an
excellent team. It will be exciting to be in the playoff hunt."

Griffiths was 5-2 with a 3.47 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk. He
reached the majors last season, going 1-4 with a 7.02 ERA in nine
games with the Mets, including six starts. He will report to
Houston's Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans.

To make room for Weathers on the roster, Houston designated
right-hander Ricky Stone for assignment. The Astros have 10 days to
trade, release or send him outright to the minors.