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Franco Sticking With Mets

Free agent reliever John Franco has chosen to stay close to home with the New York Mets rather than become a closer somewhere else.

Franco and the Mets neared completion Friday on a three-year deal worth nearly $11 million, deciding to re-sign with his hometown team and stay in a setup role rather than try for the career saves record with the Philadelphia Phillies.

At 40, Franco is coming off his first-ever World Series appearance. The Brooklyn-born reliever recorded the Mets' only victory in their loss to the New York Yankees.

"It was an extremely difficult decision," Franco's agent, Dan Horwits, said Friday night. "But today we called the other teams and shut it down."

The Phillies made a strong pitch for Franco, offering a two-year deal that could have resulted in about $10 million. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs also bid for the reliever.

Franco has 420 career saves, second on the all-time list to Lee Smith's 478. Franco's chance to set the record diminished in the middle of the 1999 season when Armando Benitez took over the Mets' closer job.

"John called me today and said that more than anything, more than the record, he wanted to win a World Series ring," Horwits said.

Franco was 5-4 with four saves and a 3.40 ERA in 62 games this season. The left-hander excelled in the World Series, pitching 3 1-3 scoreless innings in four appearances against the Yankees.

Franco has been with the Mets since 1990, longer than anyone else on the club, and his New York roots run deep. He went to school at St. John's and lives on Staten Island.

Under his Mets jersey, Franco wears an orange T-shirt from the city's sanitation department, where his late father worked.

With the Mets, Franco has 272 saves and has pitched in 547 games, both team records.

The NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals called earlier in the week, trying to lure Franco. But ultimately he narrowed his decision to the Mets and Phillies, whose nearness to New York made him consider a move.

The Mets were the only club that offered more than a two-year contract. And after a Thanksgiving dinner and talks withis family and friends, Franco chose to stay at home.

Horwits said he spoke the Mets general manager Steve Phillips "about six or seven times" Friday and planned further discussions to finalize a deal.

Franco agreed in August 1998 to a two-year extension that wound up earning him $6.5 million.

In the middle of the 1999 season, Franco injured his finger on his left hand and missed almost two months, costing him his closer's role.

After the year, when the Mets said they would go with Benitez as their closer, they told Franco they would trade him if he wanted. He deliberated and then told them he wanted to stay.

The Mets recently raised their offer after the Phillies came hard after Franco. That move followed Philadelphia signing free agent Jose Mesa to a $6.8 million, two-year deal to be the setup man.

Minus Franco, the Phillies will step up their efforts to sign another free agent reliever, having already talked to Jeff Nelson, Turk Wendell, Rheal Cormier and Mark Petkovsek.

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