Pitcher's three-year deal worth $22.5 million

NEW YORK -- Now that Kris Benson is definitely returning to the New York Mets, the right-hander hopes Al Leiter will be back, too.

"Al's been a tremendous help for me. He got me acclimated to
the team when I got over here," Benson said Monday after taking a
physical and finalizing his $22.5 million, three-year contract.

New Mets general manager Omar Minaya wouldn't reveal much about
the Mets' talks with Leiter. Last Friday, a baseball official who
spoke on the condition of anonymity said the left-hander and New
York were nearing agreement on a one-year contract worth $4 million
to $5 million plus performance bonuses.

"I don't want to comment too much because of where we are,"
Minaya said. "Where we are is sensitive to talk about what the
thinking is on the Al Leiter front."

Before embarking on extensive talks about trades and new free
agents, Minaya has concentrated much of his time in recent weeks on
the Benson and Leiter negotiations, hiring the coaching staff for
new manager Willie Randolph and restructuring the Mets medical and
training staff.

Minaya hoped to finalize the coaching staff later this week and
said former Met Mookie Wilson is among those he's talked to.

He also wouldn't get into details about trade talks to acquire
Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa or deal catcher Mike Piazza.

"Some teams will call about Mike. Our policy is nobody's
untouchable," Minaya said. "I'm open to talking about any player
if a team calls me."

New York had been trying to re-sign Benson since he was acquired
from Pittsburgh on July 30, two months before the Mets hired
Minaya. The 30-year-old right-hander, taken by the Pirates with the
first pick of the 1996 amateur draft, has been sidelined by
injuries for much of his career -- his 31 starts this year were his
most since 2000.

Minaya called him "a pitcher who has not fulfilled his potential."

"I think we haven't seen the best of Kris Benson yet," Minaya

Benson went 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 11 starts with the Mets,
leaving his season record at 12-12 with a 4.31 ERA and his career
mark at 47-53. While Benson became a free agent, he never really
explored signing with other teams.

"Our main priority was always with the Mets," he said. "It
all comes down to having a team that is interested in having you as
part of their team. They've accepted my family into the Mets family
from day one. That goes a long way."

His deal with the Mets calls for a $2.5 million signing bonus
and salaries of $4.5 million in 2005 and $7.5 million in each of
the next two seasons. The Mets have a $7.5 million option for 2008
with a $500,000 buyout. If the option is exercised, the contract
would be worth $29.5 million over four seasons.