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Mets bring back two veterans

Alou, Easley back with Mets for 2008

NEW YORK -- The Mets, beset with many questions about their 2008 season, provided two answers 31 days after their season ended prematurely. The club exercised its option on the contract of Moises Alou and re-signed free agent Damion Easley on Wednesday.

So now the Mets have identified respectively the player they hope will play 120 games in left field and the one they see as their reserve second baseman and backup outfielder. Greater issues -- whether free agents Luis Castillo, Tom Glavine and Paul Lo Duca stick around -- remain. But it's a start for a team that didn't finish well.

To bring back Alou for a second season, the Mets merely notified the 41-year-old veteran that they exercised his option. They had until Nov. 15 to do so. Alou, a critical figure in the team's fast start last season and a force in the batting order late in the year, will earn $7.5 million in 2008, a bargain if he can remain healthy and produce at the level he established in '07. Alou batted .341 with 14 home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs, .392 on-base percentage and .524 slugging percentage in 87 games (328 at-bats). A 30-game hitting streak, the longest in franchise history, increased his average from .313 to .341. Alou hit safely in 11 of 12 games before the streak.

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Alou said he was pleased to return because of "unfinished business" that he said he and the other players have.

"After what happened to us, I really want another shot at winning a world championship," Alou said from the Dominican during a conference call. "I really want to achieve the things I came here for. ... Hopefully, [2008] will be our year.

"I'm angry at what happened last year, and our fans deserved better. I'm coming back to help us win a championship. From the first day of Spring Training, we have to show people that 2008 will be different."

Alou said he began working out three weeks ago, a month earlier than he usually begins, and that his objective is to play in 140 games, something he has done five times in his 15 full seasons and not in his last three.

"I want to make sure I'm 100 percent healthy and strong, and be in the best shape I've ever been in my career," Alou said.

General manager Omar Minaya spoke of Alou's influence in the clubhouse as an another element of the left fielder's value. Another player recently acknowledged that Alou was tentative about exercising his influence while he was assigned to the disabled list, but he made a point of approaching Carlos Beltran following the Mets' series in Miami in September to urge him to play even though the center fielder had been injured in successive games.

Easley, who turns 38 in 12 days, agreed to a one-year contract worth $950,000.

Easley was in the midst of a terrific season as a utilityman before he suffered a gruesome and catastrophic left ankle sprain on Aug. 18. He started 46 games -- 36 at second base, eight in the outfield and two at first base -- and, more often than not, acquitted himself well. His power was an important component on the bench. Easley batted .280 with 26 RBIs, 10 home runs and a .280 batting average in 193 at-bats.

Minaya called Easley "one of the best bench players," and he said that manager "Willie [Randolph] wanted him all along."

Minaya said the presence of Easley doesn't preclude the Mets from re-signing Jose Valentin, but if the club re-signs Castillo, as it hopes to do, and retains Ruben Gotay, as it plans to do, the need for Valentin would be greatly diminished.

Minaya also said he has ongoing conversations with Lo Duca's representative. He said the Mets have "good interest."

Alou and Easley were two of the 14 Mets eligible for free agency. Easley is one of the nine Mets who had filed. The other eight include Lo Duca, Castillo, Marlon Anderson, Ramon Castro, Shawn Green, Aaron Sele, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Mike DiFelice.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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