LAS VEGAS - Francisco Rodriguez became the first top-tier free agent to reach an agreement when he decided to join the New York Mets, and Kerry Wood was on the verge of striking a deal with the Cleveland Indians at the winter meetings.

Coming off a record 62 saves for the Los Angeles Angels, Rodriguez reached a preliminary agreement yesterday on a $37 million, 3-year contract with the Mets, desperate for bullpen help. The sides still have to work out a written agreement and the pitcher must pass a physical, two people familiar with the negotiations said.

Rodriguez' deal is unlikely to be finalized before next week. The Mets wouldn't comment publicly on it.

Cleveland was closing in on a 2-year contract with Wood, the former Chicago Cubs starter-turned-reliever, a person familiar with that deal said. Wood, who has had numerous injury problems in the past, also needs to pass a physical before the deal can be completed.

Other high-profile free agents are taking longer to determine their market value. Righthanders A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe likely will wait for lefthander CC Sabathia to make a decision. Slugger Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez also could become lengthy negotiations.

In the second trade of the 4-day session, the Cincinnati Reds acquired catcher Ramon Hernandez and cash from the Baltimore Orioles for utilityman Ryan Freel and two minor leaguers.

"Ramon is a guy we put high on our list and stayed with it," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said.

The Dodgers reached a $17.5 million, 3-year agreement with third baseman Casey Blake and a preliminary 1-year deal with infielder Mark Loretta, pending a physical.

The Yankees offered Sabathia a 6-year contract for about $140 million, a record for a pitcher, and general manager Brian Cashman reportedly left the meetings yesterday to meet with Sabathia in San Francisco.

The Yankees spoke with the agents for Burnett, saying they were prepared to exceed $60 million over 4 years, and they examined the medical records of righthander Ben Sheets.

Also, infielder Mike Lamb agreed to a 1-year contract with Milwaukee, setting up a potential platoon with Bill Hall at third base next season. Lamb began last season in Minnesota, but was waived by the Twins and signed with Milwaukee on Sept. 5. He hit .273 in 11 games for the Brewers. *