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Jason Bay introduced as Mets new left fielder

By Howie Rumberg
AP Sports Writer / January 5, 2010

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NEW YORK—Jason Bay happily put on his Mets jersey after two team executives fumbled with the buttons, then dispelled a couple of hurtful rumors, saying there were no issues with his shoulder or desire to play in New York.

With brilliant sunlight pouring through big picture windows in one of Citi Field's exclusive club rooms, the Mets new slugging left fielder saw only the upside for a ballclub that went an embarrassing 70-92 last season after a string of injuries wrecked the first season in its new ballpark.

"I wouldn't've signed the contract if I didn't want to be here or I wasn't happy. This is one of the biggest days of my life," Bay said Tuesday. "They've got a great group of hitters; arguably the best pitcher in baseball. What's not to like?"

The $66 million, four-year deal that returns Bay to the team that had him for several months in 2002 could be worth $80 million including an option for a fifth season. The 2014 option for $17 million would become guaranteed if Bay has 600 plate appearances in 2013 or 500 plate appearances in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons, something he's done in each of his six full seasons except 2004, when he was NL Rookie of the Year with the Pirates.

Bay passed his physical Monday, no small hurdle for the Mets, who had a roster of All-Stars miss significant time in 2009, including Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, David Wright and Johan Santana.

The Mets and Bay reached a tentative deal around Christmas but the wait until it was finalized led to clamoring by antsy fans and talk radio that he didn't really want to come to New York and that there were concerns about his shoulder.

"I actually never hurt my shoulder," Bay said. "That was another thing that actually had been me not refuting much and it just kind of took on a life of its own. I had surgery on it on 2003 and it's been great ever since."

Mets general manager Omar Minaya said Bay was the team's priority from the get-go -- the front office never felt outfielder Matt Holliday would agree to a a four-year deal -- but the contract took longer to finalize because of travel around the holidays.

"When we started this winter, we felt that one of these areas that we needed to improve on -- we felt that we had to slug more, to be able to have a power hitter, to be able to have a guy that would fit into the middle of our lineup," Minaya said. "I think today, having Jason up here, we achieved one of our goals this winter."

A lot more is going to be expected this time around from Bay, whose main accomplishment in his previous stint with the organization was driving Reyes to and from the field while both were teammates at Double-A Binghamton.

New York already has seen a benefit to its first big move of the offseason. Mets executive vice president David Howard said the team has had a spike in interest for season tickets since reports of the deal surfaced last week.

The 31-year-old three-time All-Star set career highs of 36 homers and 119 RBIs last season for the Red Sox, and the Mets hope he will help revive an offense that hit a major league-low 95 homers, 49 at home, where it is 335 feet down the left-field line as opposed to an inviting 310 feet at Fenway Park.

Bay, who played in the exhibition games that opened Citi Field last spring, was not intimidated by the park's dimensions. After all, he did play for Pittsburgh, where it is about 410 feet to left-center at PNC Park.

According to hittrackeronline, a site that charts home runs, Bay has reason to be optimistic. He hit 31 homers left of center field, and his average for all 36 drives traveled 393.7 feet.

The addition of Bay should give the Mets a formidable middle of the order, with him following Beltran and Wright, who never adapted to the imposing ballpark backing Flushing Bay and hit a meager 10 home runs.

Never noted for his defense, Bay will have to cover a lot of ground at Citi Field compared to the snug confines of Fenway.

"I'm by no means Torii Hunter, I know that," said Bay, who did not make an error last season. "But I still think I'm pretty good."

The Mets still have significant holes to fill if they are going to compete with the NL East-champion Phillies and much improved Atlanta Braves, and Minaya is exploring his options.

New York signed oft-injured pitcher Kelvim Escobar and Japanese reliever Ryota Igarashi and backup catcher Henry Blanco. And they are trying to sign free-agent catcher Bengie Molina, and are interested in a starter such as Joel Piniero.

"There are still free agents out there available that we are going to look at," Minaya said. "You are always going to try to improve your pitching."

The Mets are also monitoring first baseman Delgado, who went 1 for 4 Sunday in the Puerto Rico winter league, his first swings in a game since having hip surgery in May. The 37-year-old Delgado hit just four home runs in 26 games last season and forced rookie Daniel Murphy into playing a new position.

"We going to have to make sure he can run, move laterally," Minaya said, adding, "We are very comfortable with Daniel Murphy as our first baseman."

NOTES: The Mets agreed to minor league contracts with INFs Russ Adams, Andy Green, Mike Hessman and Mike Cervenak; RHP R.A. Dickey and OF Jesus Feliciano. All were invited to big league spring training.

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