LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Not long after outfielder Curtis Granderson agreed to terms with the Mets on a four-year, $60 million contract, manager Terry Collins checked in with his old friend and mentor Jim Leyland. Granderson's boss for six years in Detroit, Leyland recollected him as one of the most professional players he has ever managed.
Visions of that man were on display Tuesday at the Winter Meetings, where Granderson slipped on a No. 3 Mets jersey for the first time and flashed his high-wattage smile for an assembled mass of media. One day after officially passing his physical and signing on board with the Mets, Granderson talked up the Mets' chances in 2014 -- and their place in New York City's inter-borough pecking order.
"A lot of the people I've met in New York have always said that, 'True New Yorkers are Mets fans,'" Granderson said. "So I'm excited to get a chance to see them all out there."
Largely, the feeling is mutual. For fans, Granderson represents the Mets' largest free-agent commitment in four offseasons under general manager Sandy Alderson -- and it's not even close. He also represents their best chance at rapid improvement. A three-time All-Star with the Tigers and Yankees, Granderson hit 84 home runs from 2011-12 and, since '11, ranks fifth in the Majors with one homer every 15.3 at-bats.
He is, in short, the sort of power-hitting outfielder the Mets have lacked since Carlos Beltran. Given Collins' tentative plan to bat him fourth, Granderson also gives David Wright the type of consistent lineup protection he has not enjoyed in years. And he adds a little star power to a team that had not held a big-splash free-agent news conference since Jason Bay signed in 2010.
"He brings a tremendous amount of professionalism," Alderson said, adding that Granderson's prior New York success factored into the signing. "He brings a personality. He brings credibility. He brings experience and he brings talent. And I think all of those things were important. I really like the group of players we have character-wise, personality-wise, and I think he will enhance that mix. He's a gregarious, infectious personality."
At his best, Granderson is also an elite power hitter -- even if he brushes aside that label. A strict pull hitter at Yankee Stadium, where he developed from a gap slugger into a perennial 40-homer threat, Granderson said his approach may naturally change in a ballpark as large as Citi Field.
The Mets, who performed casual studies trying to predict his transition from Yankee Stadium to Citi, hope only that it does not change too much. They signed Granderson as a power threat and expect him to embody that reputation throughout the next four years, even if he never again approaches 40 homers.
"I've never gone up to a situation trying to do anything except for trying to get a good pitch and trying to hit it and do some damage with it," Granderson said. "At Citi Field, some of that damage might be a little different than others. But as long as you're putting the bat on the ball and doing what you know you can, you have a chance to score some runs."
The Mets now have a pair of slugging outfielders in Granderson and Chris Young, who should bat fourth and fifth in their lineup, respectively. That gives them a dimension they did not have heading into last season, when Alderson infamously quipped, "What outfield?" in response to a question about his starting trio. Though Collins was unwilling to speculate on his outfield alignment just yet, one team official envisioned Eric Young Jr. in left, Young in center and Granderson in right, which would push Juan Lagares back to Triple-A Las Vegas.
No matter the layout, Collins said, "We got better. I got an early Christmas present."
Still, as the manager went on to note, Granderson is not a cure-all. He is a flawed hitter given his career-long struggles against left-handed pitchers, and an aging player who is no longer an elite basestealing threat.
So the Mets understand that they still must upgrade. Though Alderson said no deals were imminent as of Tuesday afternoon, the Mets planned to continue monitoring potential solutions at shortstop, in the rotation and in the bullpen, all while fielding trade offers for Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy. With their roster still very much in flux, both Alderson and COO Jeff Wilpon tempered expectations after Granderson's news conference.
Asked if the Mets were ready to compete as currently constituted, Wilpon replied, "I think we're still building." But he also acknowledged the importance of the Mets, after years of Hot Stove dormancy, signing a three-time All-Star to an eight-figure contract.
"It was what we had to do," Wilpon said. "It was something that we wanted to do. It fit well with the plan. It's a commitment on our part to have him around. He wanted to be around to see the team turn the corner and be part of it moving forward. I think he was the best fit for us."