As rumors continue to swirl about the possible addition of Al Leiter to the Yankees (and the probable subtraction of Kevin Brown, possibly in exchange for Andruw Jones), the New York Daily News’ Sam Borden reports that George Steinbrenner is displeased over the Mets’ interest in former hitting coach Rick Down.

Bad blood between the Yankees and Mets has been revived, with coach Rick Down serving as the lightning rod. The tension stems from the Mets’ desire to make Rick Down, who is a minor-league instructor for the Yanks, their hitting coach.

New Mets manager Willie Randolph met with Down (above) on several occasions, according to multiple sources, and told Down that he wants him to join his staff.

Down, who was fired as the Bombers’ hitting coach following the 2003 season, is excited about the possibility of working with Randolph, whom he considers a good friend.

The problem, sources said, is that the Mets may not have had formal permission to speak with Down about the job since he is still under contract with the Yankees. George Steinbrenner was “livid” when he heard about the situation, one source said, and Yankee officials are blaming Mets GM Omar Minaya for not going directly to Yanks GM Brian Cashman with a request in the beginning.

“It appears that Omar screwed this thing up,” a Yankee source said yesterday.

The Mets aren’t so sure. One Met source acknowledged that Randolph met with Down but was under the impression that the meeting was allowed because Down had requested permission to talk with the Mets from senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, who works out of the Yanks’ Tampa office.

The Mets claim they were led to believe Down was free to talk with them and the Yankees were the ones confused.

Regardless, that isn’t sufficient permission under major-league rules, and the Yanks were irked when Down’s name was linked to the Mets in numerous published reports.