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 NEW YORK (AP) -Mets general manager Omar Minaya is confident he has enough pitching. One big reason: the lanky right-hander in the Santa Claus suit sitting just a few feet away.
John Maine played the part of Saint Nick at the team's holiday party Tuesday, handing out presents to New York school children on the fourth floor of Shea Stadium. Left-hander Oliver Perez and manager Willie Randolph joined in the role of elves.
``This outfit's really hot and the beard keeps slipping off,'' Maine said from under his bushy get-up. ``It's itching.''
Just as Maine was eager to discard his robust, red-and-white costume, the Mets want to add a reliable starter to their suspect rotation this winter. But they insist they're not desperate, largely because they have faith in Maine and Perez.
Both 26-year-olds went 15-10 this season with ERAs below 4.00, helping New York build a comfortable cushion in the NL East before its September collapse. During the offseason, Minaya has touted the pair often when asked about his pursuit of another starter.
``I think sometimes we lose sight of what those guys did,'' the GM said. ``Wait a minute, let's reflect, we do have some young guys who have done it, who are proven. Sometimes you get caught up - we need pitching. Well, we do have pitching.''
Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez return to the rotation, though health is a major concern for both aging stars. As of now, New York plans to put the No. 5 spot up for grabs among young prospects such as Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.
Of course, the Mets would prefer to acquire a trusty starter who can help replace Tom Glavine. The two-time Cy Young Award winner threw 200 1-3 innings this year, going 13-8 with a 4.45 ERA in 34 starts before signing with his hometown Atlanta Braves.
``I don't think that we should go out and do something just because you feel pressure,'' Randolph said. ``You know what's out there. Not a whole lot.
``We just need someone,'' he added, ``who we can hopefully depend on to give us those innings that we lost from Glavine.''
The Mets would love to land Minnesota ace Johan Santana, but they aren't thought to be serious contenders in trade talks. They're also interested in Baltimore's Erik Bedard and Oakland's Dan Haren.
New York insists it won't trade All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, which he was happy to hear.
``This is an unusual market this year,'' Randolph said. ``You have to be creative.''
If they can't fortify the rotation with a new arm, the Mets will count even more on Maine and Perez in 2008.
``If we don't get another pitcher they're going to really need to step up,'' Randolph said. ``These guys came off nice years. ... They're going to get better, hopefully.''
Both pitchers are looking forward to the challenge.
``I think me and Oliver let some games slip,'' Maine said. ``Me and Oliver just got to keep improving.''
Maine said the nagging hip problem that bothered him late this season was checked out by a doctor and there was no structural damage.
Perez said he learned a lot this year about preparation and staying focused.
``We don't have to put too much pressure,'' he said. ``We just have to play baseball.''

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