Benson's Christmas wish is to remain with Mets

NEW YORK -- Kris Benson was all dressed up as Santa Claus on Wednesday, welcoming 110 schoolchildren to Shea Stadium at the New York Mets' annual holiday party, handing out presents and listening to all manner of wishes from the kids.

He had a request of his own for his bosses: Don't trade me.

Benson's name surfaced in trade talks before and during last week's winter meetings in Dallas as a bargaining chip that could clear some salary space for other moves. He hopes the talk wasn't

"I've always said I wanted to be here," he said through his
fake beard. "I signed here because I want to be here. We said all
along we want to be here."

Benson was traded to New York during the 2004 season and then re-enlisted as a free agent with a $22.5 million, three-year contract. He remembered the sales pitch the team used.

"They said, 'Sign with us and be part of a world championship
team we're building,' " he said. "Hopefully they still feel that
way, and I'll be a part of a world championship team here."

That said, Benson understands the Mets' needs and how he might
be used by general manager Omar Minaya, who has made bold moves to
improve the team.

Clearing the $15.5 million in guaranteed money remaining on his
contract could create room in the budget for other high-priced
players, perhaps Boston slugger Manny Ramirez.

"I understand how the business works," Benson said. "He has
to do what's best for his team. It's a decision for him."

Benson and his wife, Anna, met with Minaya, chief operating
officer Jeff Wilpon and manager Willie Randolph before the party to
express his feelings. "We're all on the same page," Benson said.
"I hope I'm here in February."

Santa hasn't had much staying power lately at Shea. Pitcher John
Franco played the part at the holiday party two years ago and
outfielder Mike Cameron did it last December. Both are gone from
the Mets. Benson hopes he can break that trend.

Minaya has upgraded the Mets with the addition of first baseman Carlos Delgado, closer Billy Wagner and catcher Paul Lo Duca, who
stopped by the party and is house hunting in the New York area this

"We're happy with some of the work we've done," Minaya said.
"There's still a lot of work to be done. I think we're a better
team today than we were at the end of the year with Billy, Delgado,
Paul and our bench."

Still to be addressed is the bullpen and, perhaps, Ramirez. That
may be where Benson comes in.

"I've talked to Kris," Minaya said. "I've explained where things are. It's part of the business. Kris understands the
baseball business."

So does Lo Duca, who watched Florida dismantle the Marlins with trades of Josh Beckett, Mike Lofton and Guillermo Mota to Boston and Delgado to New York and then became part of the overhaul when
he was swapped to the Mets.

It was a homecoming for the catcher, who is a native of Brooklyn
and still has relatives in the area.

"It's exciting to come here, to come to a team that's committed to winning," he said. "This is a city with high expectations and
that's the way it should be. The situation with this team, with the
moves it made, it should win. I'd rather have that pressure. It
makes you a better player."

Lo Duca said he looked forward to working with a pitching staff headed by Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine. "It'll be fun catching
guys who are going to the Hall of Fame," he said.

Benson hopes Lo Duca will be catching him, too.