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Bay has some things to say

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 1, 2010

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Jason Bay looks much different in the blue Mets warm-up jersey with the big No. 44 on his back. And while he has moved on from the Red Sox and is about to shoulder the burden of providing power to an anemic offense, some of the scars of a tough offseason probably will stay with him until he starts playing for New York for real.

Bay signed a four-year, $66 million contract (with a fifth-year option) with the Mets after he and the Red Sox couldn’t work out a deal because of the player’s unwillingness to go along with a medical provision protecting the team if he missed time because of shoulder and knee injuries. Bay, who had been in talks with Boston on an extension since last summer, was quick to note what he called untruths that were attributed to him upon signing with the 70-92 Mets.

“Would I have gone back [to Boston]? Yeah, I think so,’’ he said. “But I’d be back on my terms. During the season I was part of the Red Sox, and once the offseason came I didn’t consider myself part of the Red Sox. We kept in dialogue and they were a team on my list. I felt at that point I had a little more power, or at least it was going to be my decision what my direction was.

“I had teams on the list and I had my pluses and minuses, and Boston had its pluses because I’d been there and I’d understood how to play there.’’

In the end it was about two sides who each would not budge from what they believed.

Team physician Thomas Gill felt the Sox needed to protect themselves, much like they had regarding J.D Drew’s shoulder and John Lackey’s elbow. The Sox were willing to give Bay three guaranteed years and a fourth with medical protection language. Gill and the Sox’ medical team saw red flags; those Bay got second and third opinions from did not. The Mets weren’t bothered by the medical issues and signed Bay, much as they had done five years before with Pedro Martinez.

“I could see a thousand medical people and they might all agree on the same thing, but if the guy there [Gill] doesn’t see it that way, that’s their prerogative,’’ Bay said. “Things got out, and it was painted as me having sour grapes. By no means do I want to portray it that way. But what bothered me is now the perception was I was damaged goods, even though three doctors determined I wasn’t.

“I’m not saying they’re right or wrong, but I would hope others would take that into consideration.’’

Bay said he never considered signing off on the clause because, “If I agreed to what they were saying and I looked at [an X-ray or medical report] and said, ‘Yeah, you’re right, that’s a little iffy,’ then I would have said, ‘OK,’ though I definitely would have looked around first. The bottom line was I was completely willing to walk away from it because by me signing that, it would have meant I agreed with what they had to say, and I didn’t.’’

Bay said he didn’t blame the Sox for trying to insert the clause.

“The last two big free agent signings have agreed to sign it,’’ he said. “So you have two people who agreed to it and one who didn’t. I understand it. I thought it could have been handled in a little bit better manner, but at the end of the day they made it clear if I wasn’t going to agree to that, it wasn’t going to happen.’’

There was a report in which Bay indicated the Sox at one point were going to make him have knee surgery to complete the terms of the contract. Although the Sox have made no public comment, team sources indicate they never would make a player have surgery.

“Look, I know everybody seems to think there’s this gray area, but there isn’t,’’ Bay said. “I was told in August that in order to get the reduced deal they were offering I’d have to have knee surgery on something that didn’t hurt. They said, ‘We feel like you need it and it will help.’ Then they came back at the end of the year and they were willing to do it without the surgery. I said, ‘Wait, you thought I needed this surgery a month earlier and now you don’t?’ And they explained that they felt comfortable with the way I finished up the season and I didn’t need it.

“However minor, however major, however [much] gray area, that’s what happened. It was flabbergasting to me how that situation changed. This isn’t meant to be throwing stones at doctors. But it got to the point where I needed to answer some of the things that were out there.’’

Many people believed New York couldn’t possibly be where Bay wanted to play the next five years. He said his adopted home of Seattle was definitely on his list, as were other West Coast teams, such as the Angels. But Bay took offense when writers said he would never play in New York, including one who said Bay “would rather play in Beirut than Queens.’’

“Things kept coming up like, ‘Jason this’ and ‘Jason that,’ ’’ Bay said. “The only people I talked to were my wife and my agent. People were just flat-out making stuff up. I have no problem if people present things as their opinion, because that’s like water off my back. But when someone heard something from someone else and then it came from me, that’s not right. I know there’s competition to get stuff out there, and once it all started I wanted to address some things, but I didn’t want to address things that weren’t true. So it’s partly my fault for not addressing stuff and [allowing] it to take a life of its own.

“[New York] was always on my list of places I wanted to play. When I came here, I had to overcome this misconception that I didn’t want to be here. It was completely untrue.’’

He also kept hearing about how bad an outfielder he was.

“It doesn’t bother me,’’ he said. “I understand there are some numbers out there that don’t flatter me. And now they’ve come out with these metrics for defense and it doesn’t really flatter me.

“I’m comfortable with the guy I am. At the end of the day, if that’s the worst thing you can say about me, then I’m OK with that. I’ve said this many times, I’m not Ichiro, I’m not a Gold Glover out there. I feel in left field I’m more than adequate as far as getting to the balls and hitting the cutoff man. I’m not going to be diving into the stands, but I definitely don’t feel I’m a liability, as some people have portrayed me.’’

Bay was a consistent 30-homer, 100-RBI guy in Pittsburgh and in Boston. While Citi Field hasn’t been hitter-friendly, Bay says he sees no reason his numbers will be any different in New York.

He said his time in Boston helped reinforce to him that he can handle anything thrown his way.

“It absolutely helped me,’’ he said. “I’d been toiling in Pittsburgh for six years and overnight I’m arguably in the biggest market in baseball in a playoff race. Everyone who plays in a small- or mid-market team who all of a sudden goes into a big market has to wonder what it’s all about and if they can handle it. Was I nervous or scared? No, but I was interested in how I’d react and I was pleasantly surprised.

“I always get asked, ‘Did you like Boston?’ I say, ‘Yeah, I liked it.’ But you have to understand that if you’re coming from Pittsburgh, where you’re not winning, and you go to any of these teams like a Minnesota - I would have had fun. Everyone here is dwelling on the 70-92 record and how bad things played out with injuries. You can play that until you’re blue in the face, but the bottom line is talent-wise we stack up, but you’ve got to win.’’

Bay is returning to the National League.

“There’s a little difference, but at the end of the day it’s baseball,’’ he said. “The differences are more in the [length of games]. I was in the National League for six years, so hopefully I still have more knowledge of the NL than I do the AL. I’ve had a taste of both and it’s the same game.’’

As for leaving the Red Sox, he remains perplexed at how it ended.

“Even while the whole ordeal was going down, they were very cordial,’’ he said. “I was told a number of times before I left by the owner [John Henry], the president [Larry Lucchino] how much they really wanted me back and to keep us in mind through this free agency process. I was kind of scratching my head a little bit after what transpired.

“Ultimately, it comes down to the dollars and all that stuff, but it never really fell apart. If I had been on the phone in the offseason during some of the conversations it would have been a little more personal. All along they maintained, ‘We still want you. Look around and see what you find.’ Ultimately I came to this.

“By no means am I bitter. I’m not the first guy to change teams. I was put off by the timing of it, because it was the one and only time in my career to capitalize on what I had accomplished and I was looking at this thing [medical clause] in the face, which I thought was untrue.

“Having said that, did they ever mean to be malicious? Absolutely not. I wish them well. They have a great team.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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