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Mets ready to introduce Beltran today

Centerfielder Carlos Beltran passed his physical, and the Mets scheduled a news conference for today to announce his $119-million, seven-year contract.

While the Mets worked to finalize Beltran's contract, the 10th baseball deal worth $100-million or more, general manager Omar Minaya spoke with Carlos Delgado's agent, David Sloane, about meeting with the first baseman this week.

Mets manager Willie Randolph was excited about the prospect of having Beltran in his lineup. "Just to think about having someone of that caliber on your ballclub is awesome," he said.

OF near decision on Rays

ST. PETERSBURG _ The Devil Rays' negotiations with free-agent outfielder Danny Bautista are expected to conclude, one way or another, in the next day or so.

If Bautista signs with the Rays, he'll play leftfield with Carl Crawford moving to center until Rocco Baldelli recovers from a knee injury. If Bautista goes elsewhere, the Rays are likely to move Aubrey Huff to left and pursue a first baseman, possibly Travis Lee.

The Rays could have another option. With Beltran leaving, Houston media report the Astros may have interest in outfielder Jose Cruz, due to make $4-million with $500,000 in incentives.

Also, the Rays continue to work toward a deal with top draft pick Jeff Niemann.

UMPS TO GET BACK PAY: Five umpires' long battle to get back pay from Major League Baseball is over. The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling, largely ending nearly 5{ years of litigation resulting from the resignation by 22 umpires late in the 1999 season.

Gary Darling, Bill Hohn, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover and Joe West will receive back pay for September 1999 and the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

BLUE JAYS: Free agent right-hander Billy Koch agreed to a $900,000, one-year contract to return to Toronto.

INDIANS: Free-agent outfielder Juan Gonzalez, a two-time MVP whose production has plummeted, is close to signing a minor-league contract.

PIRATES: Right-hander Todd Ritchie, who pitched briefly for the Rays last season, agreed to a minor-league contract.

YANKEES: Outfielder Gary Sheffield said he is making progress in his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery and expects to be ready for spring training.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

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