The New York Times Co. has been holding discussions about possibly purchasing the Metropolitan News Co., which is the largest newspaper distributor in New York City and also the largest distributor of the Times.

The move has thrown a scare into the Trib, a new New York morning newspaper scheduled to begin publication next Jan. 9 in direct competition with the Times and which, according to publisher Leonard Saffir, recently concluded a verbal agreement with Metropolitan to distribute the Trib and promote the newspaper with newsstands.

Saffir said he had been informed this week by Metropolitan officials of the approach by the Times and had been told as well that the Times had indicated it might drop Metropolitan as its distributor if the purchase did not go through.

Saffir called the move by the Times Co. "harassment of the worst sort," and said his paper could not accept a situation where its distribution would be controlled by the Times.

The Trib New York Inc., parent company for the new newspaper, last month filed an antitrust suit against the Times and two other firms charging a conspiracy to prevent the Trib from publishing - one of the charges being that the Times was intimidating potential advertisers in the Trib - and Saffir today indicated that the charges in the suit might now be widened.

Metropolitan is a wholly owned subsidiary of McGrath Services Corp., a stevedoring outfit. McGrath president Walter D. O'Hearn Jr. said that the Times Co. "made an inquiry as to whether or not Metropolitan News Co. is for sale and we have not answered that inquiry and that's where it's at." He said that this decision would be made by his board of directors, but did not indicate when a vote would be taken.

The Times Co., in a statement, said that "for many years it has considered initiating its own distribution system" and has had "casual conversations with a number of distributors including the Metropolitan News Co."

The company stressed that "no acquisition negotiation with the Metropolitan News Co. has, however, taken place thus far." And it added that "we have no knowledge whether the Metropolitan News Co. has, however, taken place thus far." And it added that "we have no knowledge whether the Metropolitan News Co. and the Trib have a distribution agreement."

Times Co. executive vice president James C. Goodale, who looks after the company's l egal affairs, said Trib officials were "being overconcerned."

Goodale said it should not affect the Trib if the Times bought Metropolitian. He pointed out that in suburban Westchester County, the Times is distributed by a subsidiary of the company which owns the New York Daily News, the Times' only competitor in the morning field at present.

That arrangement, he said, "he doesn't create problems for the Daily News and it doesn't create problems for the New York Times."

Carl Levy, executive vice president of Metropolitan, also pointed to the Westchester distribution system and said that his company intends to "distribute the Trib; we're going to sign a contract with them."