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Lo Duca is quite a catch for Mets

Growing up in the Phoenix area, Paul Lo Duca didn't have a local major league team. So he rooted for the New York Mets, who played nearest to his Brooklyn birthplace, and he vividly remembers the final out of the team's last World Series title.

''When Jesse Orosco threw up his glove in '86, I was jumping up and down on my bed," Lo Duca said yesterday after the Mets acquired him from the cost-cutting Florida Marlins.

Florida gets two players to be named from the Mets, and the players won't be announced until after Thursday's winter meetings draft. Officials familiar with the trade have identified one as 19-year-old righthander Gaby Hernandez.

With the additions of Lo Duca, slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado, and closer Billy Wagner, the Mets might have transformed themselves into the division favorite heading into spring training.

''I think it would be a disappointment if we didn't win the NL East," Lo Duca said.

Lo Duca is owed $6.25 million in each of the next two seasons, which will be paid by the Mets, and Florida remains responsible for the final $1 million of his signing bonus, which is due to be paid Nov. 30, 2008.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya envisions the three-time All-Star as a No. 2 hitter. Lo Duca, who turns 34 in April, batted .283 last season with six homers and 57 RBIs.

Nomar in pinstripes?

The Yankees have been contacted by the agent of Nomar Garciaparra about a possible utility role with the team. Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, called New York GM Brian Cashman earlier this offseason to inquire if the Yankees might be interested in making his client their new center fielder and that offer didn't intrigue Cashman. But now, Tellem is telling clubs that Garciaparra -- whose stock has fallen after several injury-plagued seasons -- is willing to play virtually any position and could be a valuable jack-of-all-trades in the right situation. That would seem to fall in line with what Cashman says he's searching for this winter. ''What we need for this team is to be more flexible," Cashman said. ''I just don't want to make us any slower and one-dimensional than we already are in our offense."

Signing on

The Cardinals signed infielder Deivi Cruz to a one-year, $800,000 contract, filling a hole on their bench. Cruz, 32, hit .265 in 101 games last season for San Francisco and Washington with five home runs and 20 RBIs . . . The Indians finalized a two-year, $14.25 million deal with righthander Paul Byrd. The deal includes a club option for 2008 that could raise the value to $22 million. The 35-year-old Byrd went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts for the Angels last season . . . The Athletics acquired righthander Chad Gaudin from the Blue Jays for a player to be named. The 22-year-old Gaudin was 9-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 23 starts for Triple A Syracuse last season . . . Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga has offered land and money to help the Florida Marlins build a ballpark next to Dolphins Stadium, but an agreement appears unlikely, a person close to Huizenga said. The Marlins last month abandoned their bid for a ballpark near downtown Miami and said they would begin looking to relocate the franchise.

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