HOUSTON – A blockbuster three-team trade that would have landed Manny Ramirez in New York was ultimately nixed by the Mets on Friday night because they would have had to inherit the remaining $64 million on the moody Red Sox slugger’s contract.

The trade, which was actively discussed all day Friday, would have sent Ramirez along with Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez to the Mets, with Braden Looper, Mike Cameron and Tampa Bay lefty slugger Aubrey Huff going to the Red Sox.

The Devil Rays then were to get Red Sox pitching prospect Anibal Sanchez and a top prospect from the Mets, believed to be Lastings Milledge.

“This deal was very close to happening,” a high-placed baseball source familiar with the negotiations told the New York Daily News on Friday night. “When you think about it, despite Manny’s money, it’s unbelievable the Mets would back out of this. It would’ve gotten them into the playoffs and been a bonanza for their TV network next year.”

Because of all of those potential upsides for the Mets, there was a chance the deal might yet be revived, although a Boston source told The News that the Red Sox were not prepared to pay any of the money owed Ramirez.

Ramirez will be a 10/5 player after this year – 10 years in the majors, five with one team – and will have veto power on trades after this season. He entered the weekend atop the American League in homers (28) and RBI (92), but recently requested a trade, citing privacy issues, according to reports out of Boston.

With the non-waiver trading deadline arriving at 4 p.m. on Sunday, the Mets have been searching for a big bat to add to the lineup as well as bullpen help, both of which would be addressed. The 27-year-old Baez, the Rays’ closer, has a 5-3 record, 19 saves and a 3.18 ERA.

On other fronts, one Mets official described the chances of landing Rangers second baseman Alfonso Soriano as a “super longshot.” Recent discussions also have been held with the Pirates about closer Jose Mesa and first baseman Daryle Ward, for prospects that could include Double-A catcher Mike Jacobs or reliever Matt Lindstrom, an NL source said, but those talks have been casual because the Mets haven’t determined the direction they want to go.

Omar Minaya, on a conference call with reporters before Friday’s Mets-Astros game, didn’t assign any odds to the Mets making an acquisition – major or minor.

“Hey guys, if you’re talking, you have a chance to get something done,” Minaya said. “I will tell you that my staff, we are working together here, and we plan to stay on the phones all the way through the end of the trading deadline.

“I’m open to anything, but I will tell you what we acquire has to be better than what we have right now. Our club is a funny team. Our club can play very good at times and can go out and play like the first two games in Colorado (when the Mets mustered six combined runs in two losses at the hitter-friendly park). I think it’s fair to say we’ve got to get more offense and we have to try to improve the pitching, meaning the bullpen in general.”

Minaya said the Mets, like other buyers, are somewhat hamstrung by the lack of difference-makers on the market. “The reality is, I think you guys have seen with this market for a while now, is really there’s not much out there that makes a big difference or impact,” Minaya said.

In his four full seasons with the Red Sox, Ramirez averaged .321 with 39 home runs and 117 RBI. And while his erratic fielding has often forced the Red Sox to go with defensive replacements late in games, he also was the only Sox player to receive a standing ovation at Fenway Park last year for a fielding play, a brilliant diving catch down the line.

Last year was his best with Boston, when he helped the Sox win their first championship in 86 years. He batted .308 with 43 home runs and 130 RBI and was named World Series MVP after he hit .412 against the Cardinals. Willie Randolph said earlier on Friday there would be no issues over keeping him in line. “If Manny were playing with me, that’d be fine,” the manager said. “Just like Pedro (Martinez) is fine.” Added the ace: “I think it would be a great fit.”

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