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Mets' Hampton Holding Out

The length of Mike Hampton's stay with the New York Mets won't be decided until after the season.

The ace pitcher, acquired to solidify the Mets' pitching staff, said Tuesday he had cut off talks on a contract extension until after the season.

But he will talk to New York again in the fall before filing for free agency.

"Actually, in December, when the trade was made, we told the Mets that last night was the final night to negotiate and I just didn't want to have my teammates deal with all the questions," Hampton said. "I don't want the distraction and I just want to focus on the season."

The 27-year-old left-hander, second to Arizona's Randy Johnson in NL Cy Young Award voting after going 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA for Houston, is eligible for free agency after the World Series. He gets $5.75 million this season, the final year of the contract he signed with the Astros.

"When we acquired Mike, we talked to (agent) Mark Rodgers about what they wanted to do with the contract and left open a period of time until we reported to camp and Mike was going to take the field to see if we could work out an extension to his contract," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "At this point it doesn't look like that's going to happen, so we're going to put it off until the end of the season."

Phillips said that he would not detail any of the discussion about the Mets' proposal to Rodgers. Hampton was thought to be seeking a deal in the neighborhood of Kevin Brown's record $105 million, seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"My preference would have been to work something out ahead of time," Phillips said. "At any time in the next six months, we have the right to approach them on the issue, but I think the likelihood is that both sides will wait."

Hampton was acquired by the Mets along with outfielder Derek Bell for outfielder Roger Cedeno, pitcher Octavio Dotel and minor league left-hander Kyle Kessel.

"Certainly our acquisition of Mike wasn't just about this year, it was with the hope to keep him in a Met uniform," Phillips said. "It just wasn't the time to get the deal done."

Rodgers said that if Phillips called during the season, "I'm still going to answer my telephone."

"I'm going to be a Met this year and there's a period between the end of the season and filing for free agency where I'm sure we're going to sit down and have some more discussions," Hampton said. "I just don't want to do it during the eason."

Hampton knows the Mets and their fans have high expectations of him.

"They gave up a lot of talent a great young arm and a guy who can steal a lot of bases." Hampton said, "but I think they got some pretty good material in return."

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