In their search for late-inning bullpen help, the Baltimore Orioles have considered seeking a trade for New York Mets left-hander John Franco, who lost his closer's job to former Oriole Armando Benitez last season.

Although the Orioles and Mets apparently have not had in-depth discussions, the Orioles have expressed interest if Franco asks for a trade, something he is considering.

Franco, a 39-year-old with 416 career saves, could join Mike Timlin and newly signed free agent Mike Trombley to give the Orioles three ninth-inning options. Franco converted 19 of 20 saves in 1999 before being injured and losing his job to Benitez.

"He's a closer," said Dan Horwits, Franco's agent. "He's torn between staying with the Mets, where he believes he would have a chance to win a world championship but probably would have to set up, and going somewhere where he might be able to close. He hasn't decided whether he's going to ask for a trade.

"We haven't talked about [trade possibilities], but obviously, the Orioles are close to his [Staten Island, N.Y.] home and are trying to build themselves into a contender."

Franco would be especially valuable if the Orioles lose left-hander Arthur Rhodes to free agency. As of this evening, Rhodes--who is also represented by Horwits--had received several offers for four-year contracts, including one from the New York Yankees, who have coveted him for some time.

The Orioles so far have offered only three years, but Horwits, who has been negotiating with majority owner Peter Angelos, said the Orioles have not ruled out a fourth year. Rhodes has said he would prefer to remain with the Orioles.

But Horwits said the Orioles "know it's going to take four years to sign him. Arthur is mulling over the offers. I expect to hear from him soon."