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Wednesday, July 24
Updated: July 25, 11:28 AM ET
Leiter agrees to two-year extension news services

NEW YORK -- Al Leiter can finish his career with the New York Mets, who made it clear they're still determined to make a strong push for the playoffs this season.

Al Leiter

Leiter agreed Wednesday to a two-year extension with New York for a minimum of $20 million.

Leiter will get $9 million in each of the next two seasons, and the sides have a $10 million mutual option for 2005 with a $2 million buyout if the Mets don't pick up the option.

"Obviously, that's a factor,'' Leiter said. "But it's more about me being able to tell my wife, look, this is where we're going to be. This is some sort of continuity and stability. That was number one. Security is a wonderful thing if you can get it for your family.''

The Mets, who have climbed back into the NL wild card race with a recent surge, put an end to trade speculation surrounding Leiter. If they had shopped the left-hander, he might have been the premier pitcher available as the July 31 deadline approaches.

"This is where I wanted to be. Maybe it was all just rumor anyway,'' Leiter said, then glanced at general manager Steve Phillips. "It was rumor, right?''

New York lost for just the third time in 11 games Wednesday night, 2-1 to the Montreal Expos. Despite a sluggish first half, the Mets are only five games behind the San Francisco Giants in the wild card race.

"There has been a lot of speculation about Al going to this team or that team,'' Phillips said. "I think we firmly believe that we're a playoff contender, and we hope the residual effect of the announcement today is to show everybody that we believe that.

"It sends a message that the 2002 season isn't about trading away our veteran players.''

Mets owner Fred Wilpon was even more declarative.

"We're not going to dismantle this club,'' he said. "We think it's a good club for now and for the future. I said at the beginning of spring training that I'd be very disappointed if we weren't a playoff team. I still feel that way.''

The 36-year-old Leiter is 9-8 with a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts this season. He was acquired by New York from Florida after the 1997 season, traded as part of the Marlins' payroll purge following their World Series title.

"I made it clear that I wanted to stay here,'' Leiter said. "I didn't think it was imminent until last night. I'm grateful to be able to get it done and not have it prolonged. I've been hearing enough about this team being dismantled. Hopefully, this will put a stop to that.''

His current $32 million, four-year deal, agreed to in October 1998, called for a $9 million signing bonus payable from October 1999 through this month, and salaries of $3 million in 1999, $5.5 million in 2000, $7.5 million in 2001 and $7 million this year.

Leiter is 20-19 the last two seasons, and has relinquished his role as the team's ace to Pedro Astacio this year. But Phillips isn't concerned about Leiter's ability to pitch well for three more years.

"He's among the ERA leaders. I think his record is less about Al and more about that we haven't scored runs for him the last two years,'' Phillips said. "I think he's done his part and I think he's getting paid accordingly.''

With Leiter expressing his desire to stay in New York, one option the Mets could have pursued was trading him for prospects before the deadline with the intention of re-signing him in the offseason anyway.

Of course, that would have hurt their chances to make the playoffs this year.

"If you're telling someone you love them, that's not the way to show them you love them,'' Phillips said. "I don't like playing games of chicken. If it's an obvious deal, don't play chicken.''

Leiter lives in the heart of New York City and is active in the community and area charities. He has a full no-trade clause for the duration of the deal.

"That was important,'' Leiter said. "Now I can throw the little list away of teams that I was on and off.''

Astacio, with an incentive in his contract that triggers an automatic option, is the only other member of the starting rotation signed for next year. Steve Trachsel, Shawn Estes and Jeff D'Amico can become free agents.

"Looking ahead to next year, the best thing for us was to have Al and Pedro Astacio at the top of the rotation and go from there,'' Phillips said.

Leiter received a congratulatory pat on the back from shortstop Rey Ordonez in the clubhouse. The Shea Stadium crowd cheered when the extension was announced during the game.

The two-time All-Star is 126-98 with a 3.66 ERA in 16 major league seasons.

"He's durable, he's solid and he's a big-game pitcher,'' catcher Mike Piazza said. "He just loves it here.''

Phillips also said the Mets would like to find a role within the organization for Leiter after he retires.

"Al's one of the guys who personifies being a Met. I'm glad we could keep one of our own,'' manager Bobby Valentine said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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