Mets, free agent slugger Jason Bay reach preliminary deal

NEW YORK — The Baywatch is set to begin at Citi Field.

NEW YORK — The Baywatch is set to begin at Citi Field.

Free agent Canadian slugger Jason Bay and the New York Mets have reached a preliminary agreement, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Bay must pass a physical for the deal to be completed. The three-time all-star is expected to sign a four-year contract for about US$65 million.

Bay of Trail, B.C., set career highs with 36 home runs and 119 RBIs last season for Boston. The 31-year-old outfielder is a lifetime .280 hitter and has averaged 30 homers and 99 RBIs in his six full seasons in the majors.

Bay fills a huge hole in left field for the Mets, who skidded to a 70-92 mark during an injury-plagued year. They especially needed a bopper after hitting a major league-low 95 homers in the first season at their spacious, new ballpark.

The deal was first reported by WFAN.

Bay produced in his 1 1/2 seasons with the Red Sox, but the sides couldn’t agree on a new deal. The Mets wound up landing a top free agent — a bat they needed for their decimated lineup, and the kind of splashy move their fans demanded general manager Omar Minaya make.

Bay and left-fielder Matt Holliday were the biggest hitters on the market. Holliday, who split last season in Oakland and St. Louis, is seeking an even richer deal than Bay.

The deal returns Bay to an organization that once had him. A month after Minaya left the Mets’ front office in 2002 to become Montreal’s general manager, he traded Bay and another minor leaguer to New York for infielder Lou Collier.

Bay spent two months in the Mets’ system, playing alongside Jose Reyes, before getting traded to San Diego. The Padres dealt Bay to Pittsburgh in 2003, and the Pirates sent him to Boston in July 2008 in a three-team deal that moved Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.

Picked by many to be a playoff contender last season, the Mets never got into the race during their first season at Citi Field. Despite the addition of record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez, New York couldn’t overcome injuries to the likes of Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Reyes. By the end of the year, the Mets were fielding makeshift lineups on a daily basis.

The vast left field at their stadium turned into a revolving door, with eight players starting at least seven games there. Gary Sheffield, Cory Sullivan and Daniel Murphy spent the most time at the spot.

Pressure on the Mets to boost their roster heightened even more this winter when their city rivals, the World Series champion Yankees, traded for all-star centre-fielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher Javier Vazquez and signed free agent Nick Johnson.

The Mets recently signed free agent pitcher Kelvim Escobar, who’s been beset by injuries, and Japanese reliever Ryota Igarashi and backup catcher Henry Blanco. But finding a major player was their priority and they hope Bay, a star since becoming the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year with Pittsburgh, will put them on the right track.

The Mets still want to sign free agent catcher Bengie Molina and perhaps add another starting pitcher. Aces Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are among the pitchers who’ve already been traded during the off-season.

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