Newsday’s David Lennon on the next series of Mets moves.

Although the Mets are closing in fast on a new contract for Kris Benson, it appears that a trade for Sammy Sosa will need considerably more time to balance the significant money swap and turn it into a multi-player deal, two baseball officials said yesterday.

Benson is expected to get a three-year contract worth roughly $23 million, and signing the 30-year-old righthander has remained one of the Mets’ early priorities as they dive into a busy offseason. Locking up Benson during the same week when Al Leiter was cut loose with a $2.1-million buyout is a strong indication that general manager Omar Minaya has no qualms about shaking up the roster in the next two months. Two other big-ticket players on the block are Cliff Floyd and Mike Piazza.

Floyd is the big chip in any package for Sosa, based on Floyd’s $13-million salary over the next two seasons. But the Mets are concerned that the Cubs will want to reach deeper into their organization for another cost-effective player or two if they agree to pick up a fair portion of Sosa’s money for next year. Sosa, 36, is scheduled to earn $17 million in 2005, with a $4.5-million buyout if his $18-million option for 2006 is not picked up.

The Mets have no intention of honoring that option year, which automatically kicks in should Sosa be traded, and the Players Association has suggested it would agree to suitable compensation. One baseball official has said the Mets would seek to guarantee a second year, but at a reduced rate with incentives.

Getting Sosa from the Cubs would be complicated, but the Mets are believed to be the most aggressive suitor, largely because of Minaya’s history with him. It just depends on how badly the Cubs want to move him, and that is the Mets’ best leverage in these negotiations.

On the flip side, the Mets are anxious to clear Floyd’s salary from the payroll, and could switch off on Sosa if they can find another team willing to take Floyd. The Rangers talked seriously about acquiring Floyd in the days leading up to last season’s trade deadline and have shown mild interest again.

Moving Floyd at least would help build a war chest for any pursuit of Carlos Beltran, as would trading away Piazza’s $15-million salary. The Mets plan to make a serious push for the free-agent centerfielder even if they do pull off the Sosa deal.