HOUSTON – A blockbuster deal that would bring Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez and Devil Rays closer Danys Baez to the New York Mets was being actively discussed on Friday, a high-level executive with one of the teams said. The juggernaut trade would send Mike Cameron and Aubrey Huff to Boston, while shipping prospects to Tampa Bay.

A major stumbling block would be the $64 million still owed to Ramirez through 2008, though that didn’t stop Pedro Martinez from endorsing his acquisition. “I think it would be a great fit,” the ace said. Still, two high-level Mets officials disputed any such deal and said in general the team had “nothing imminent” on the trade front.

“It’s definitely real,” a baseball official close to the negotiations told the New York Daily News. “I don’t know how much momentum it’s picked up, but it is being actively discussed.”

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. EDT 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.

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. 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.

Ramirez would be an exception. He’s been a run-producing juggernaut ever since he signed an eight-year, $160 million contract with Boston on Dec. 13, 2000. In his four full seasons with the Red Sox, he 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.

Ramirez’s recent trade request is an example of his often-zany behavior. Among other things, he has offended the Boston faithful by calling in sick to a game and meeting then-Yankee Enrique Wilson for a drink afterward. He also declared he would like to finish his career as a Yankee, and, this month, left the playing field during a game for a respite inside the Green Monster.

Presented with the prospect of managing Ramirez, Willie Randolph who portrayed the All-Star outfielder as a longshot early in the day, said there would be no issues keeping him in line. “If Manny were playing with me, that’d be fine,” the manager said. “Just like Pedro is fine.”

Roger Rubin contributed to this report.

(c) 2005, New York Daily News.

Visit the Daily News online at http://www.nydailynews.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-07-29-05 2113EDT

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