Bay glad to be part of 'perfect fit'
Mets roll out orange and blue carpet for new left fielder
NEW YORK -- It may have taken a little longer than expected, but when Jason Bay finally slipped on that Mets jersey for the first time, he smiled and called it "the perfect fit."
The Mets formally introduced their new slugger on Tuesday in the first ceremonial offseason news conference held at Citi Field, finalizing a four-year, $66 million agreement that will install Bay as the club's everyday left fielder.
"There was a short list of teams that I wanted to go to, and the New York Mets were on that list," Bay said. "To be able to be here on the team and in the place that I wanted to be, you only get a chance to do this once or twice in a career. I'm very grateful and honored to be here."
Bay, 31, arrives in Flushing on a deal that includes a vesting option for the 2014 season, leaving the Red Sox after batting .267 with a career-high 36 home runs, 119 RBIs and 103 runs scored -- his second consecutive season of at least 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored.
Though negotiations played out over an extended period, general manager Omar Minaya said that the Mets expressed immediate interest in Bay, and -- contrary to speculation -- it was reciprocated. Minaya said that he had no doubts about Bay's sincerity about being excited to get started in New York.
"The bottom line is, we like Jason Bay," Minaya said. "We've seen him produce in the National League already in Pittsburgh in a big ballpark. We've seen him produce in a big market like Boston. That's not an easy thing to do, and he performed."
The Mets rolled out the orange and blue carpet for their new big-ticket star, as video boards ringing Citi Field flashed Bay's name and No. 44 -- selected because his favorite player growing up was Eric Davis.
After Bay's introductory remarks to the media, hockey great Rod Gilbert appeared for a special presentation, offering Bay a personalized New York Rangers jersey and suggesting he make the Canadian-born Bay an honorary member of the Broadway Blueshirts.
"Maybe you can come and help us score some goals," Gilbert told Bay.
If the Mets are to receive full reward on their investment, they'll need Bay not to worry much about slapshots and just keep driving baseballs with authority. The dimensions of Citi Field shouldn't be a deterrent.
Touring the ballpark for a second time after playing in the facility's first series last March, Bay recalled his time at the also-spacious PNC Park in Pittsburgh and said he is not intimidated by the deep alleys and high walls.
"It's something that's there, but you go out and I'm confident in the type of player I am," Bay said. "Ballpark or not, I'm still going to do what I do. So that had zero factor in anything in my decision. Defensively, in Pittsburgh it was big there, as well.
"The first few years there, I felt like I was a good outfielder. I got banged up a little bit in '07, then I went to Boston. There isn't a lot of room to run around. It's a challenge to go out there and prove to everyone that I can play pretty good defense. I'm by no means Torii Hunter out there, but I still think I'm pretty good. It will be a chance to show everyone that I can be."
One of the criteria for his free agency search was that the club should play meaningful games, and Bay said he believes the Mets have the parts of a contender in place. While he isn't familiar with the team's struggles of 2009, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
"Coming in, I offer a fresh perspective as a little bit of an outsider," Bay said. "I don't really know what happened last year -- I know a lot of guys got hurt. From a straight talent standpoint, it's a very good team."
After he essentially stepped in to replace Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox were among the teams interested in having Bay, but he declined a contract offer in-season so he could have the chance to test free agency and pick a team for the first time in his career.
As it turns out, Bay felt like the Mets wanted him more, and he wanted them. His arrival in Queens may have had more than a little to do with another roster move the Mets made last year, dealing lefty Billy Wagner to Boston in August.
"I actually started this process during the season last year," Bay said. "I picked Billy Wagner's brain on the back of the plane on a couple of road trips, just sitting there and talking and kind of [getting] his thoughts and how he felt. He had very good things to say, organization-wise and everything."
Bay was impressed by Minaya's persistence during the winter, and while an agreement in principle was reached before Christmas, conflicting travel plans made it difficult to get all parties in the right places for the final stage.
Minaya said a deal needed to get done by Dec. 25 because a holiday break could have allowed another club to join the fray.
"I didn't want to give them a breather, because you just don't know," Minaya said.
As trade historians will recall, Bay was actually Mets property for a brief period during the 2002 season, before he was dealt to the Padres in a move that netted the Mets pitchers Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook -- a swap that doesn't play all that favorably in hindsight.
Bay reminded Minaya of that move over dinner on Monday in New York, and also shared a story from his brief time in the chain, when he and Jose Reyes were both promoted to Double-A Binghamton and were teamed as unlikely travel buddies -- Bay speaking no Spanish and Reyes speaking no English at the time.
"I'd knock on his door and say, 'Rey-Rey, you ready?'" Bay said. "He'd say, 'Yup, yup, yup.' We'd walk to the ballpark and not say one word because we couldn't, play the game, shower and then on the way back, 'Yup, yup, yup.' Day in, day out."
One of the things Bay said he likes about his new workplace is the passion of New York -- no matter the sport or season, the audience will come to see a winning club, which he now believes Mets fans will be about to see again.
"It's a great situation," Bay said. "You've got a great group of hitters, you've got arguably the best pitcher in baseball. What's not to like?"
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.