Mets, Bay hammer out four-year deal

Mets, Bay hammer out four-year deal

NEW YORK -- Shea Stadium became Carter Country in 1985 when Gary Carter brought his All-Star career to Queens and connected it to a contemporary sitcom. And of course, with the arrival of Darryl Strawberry, right field at Shea was Strawberry Field for the better part of eight seasons; Strawberry Field forever when the man assigned to play there declined to alter his defensive position, creating the Strawberry Patch. And lest we forget, there were Piggy's Pen where Joe Pignatano raised tomatoes and The K Corner where Dwight Gooden raised expectations.

And now another player's identity and the Mets' home park are about to be linked in a special way. If Jason Bay, the slugging free-agent outfielder the Mets have coveted, passes a pending physical, left field at Citi Field is likely to become Bayside, Queens.

Clever, perhaps. More to the point, it's good for the Mets -- good for their business, good for their baseball and their batting order. After a 2009 season during which the Mets hit fewer home runs than any team in the big leagues, they made acquisition of a power hitter the primary entry on their lengthy to-do list. Soon they hope to be in position to replace a "to-do" with a "ta-dah."

Sometime next week, they hope, the Mets will present Bay to their starved public, assuming he passes his physical, easing the fan base's restlessness that had developed while other clubs, notably the Mets' neighbors in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Boston and the Bronx -- had made significant personnel improvements. The Amazin's No. 1 priority will morph into No. 38, the number Bay wore in the equivalent of five seasons with the Pirates, or No. 44, his number during his 200-game tenure with the Red Sox or some numeral exclusively Mets. The club has no number that traditionally has been worn by sluggers, because it has little tradition of slugging. Bay is a legitimate slugger though, one not likely to be deterred by the size of the Citi Field.

The pinpointed upgrade won't come cheaply. The four-year deal is to cost the Mets at least $66 million, according to a person familiar with the negotiations that began in earnest on the final day of Winter Meetings, Dec. 11. Then again, the Mets have addressed their greatest need -- albeit for four years -- for less than they paid Mike Piazza ($93 million for seven seasons), Carlos Beltran ($119 million for seven) and Johan Santana ($137.5 million for seven).

No Mets officials were willing to discuss the deal Tuesday. But reports of it were numerous.

In Bay, the Mets are set to add 31-year-old right-handed-hitting slugger of Canadian origin who has averaged 30 home runs per season, beginning in 2004 -- the year he was voted the National League Rookie of the Year. Bay has driven in at least 101 runs four times, reaching his home run and run production peaks last season -- 36 and 119, while batting .267 in 531 at-bats.

Moreover, Bay has played in at least 150 games in four seasons -- he played in 145 in 2007, no small consideration for a club that led the hemisphere in X-rays, MRIs and disabled list days in 2009.

At the same time, though, Bay is said to have some shoulders issues that developed while he was playing in 151 games (one as a designated hitter) with the Red Sox last season. The other potential negatives are that he isn't defensively gifted -- the Mets had hoped to bring in a skilled left field defender -- and he routinely accumulates more than 140 strikeouts.

Such is the price of power in the free-agent market of 2009. Bay and Matt Holliday, neither a complete player, were the two most appealing power sources on the shelves. Holliday was seen as the more expensive by all clubs, mostly because his agent is Scott Boras. The Mets considered Bay a more balanced performer, but were poised to pursue Holliday -- it would have been a "Bay and switch" -- if Bay had declined their offer.

If the Bay signing happens, the Mets -- their power needs met -- will be less likely to re-sign Carlos Delgado. Beyond that, Bay's presence made diminish the burden on David Wright to provide right-handed slugging. That may facilitate Wright's renaissance and perhaps a return to more home run producton.

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