SEATTLE — Jason Bay took a glance at the Seattle Mariners’ 40-man roster and suddenly realized how unique he will be.
He’s one of only two players on that current roster who was born in the 1970s.
“I don’t feel like I’m that old, but I guess I am around here,” the 34-year-old Bay said Monday.
While he may not exactly fit the Mariners’ model of relying on young prospects to rebuild the franchise, Bay could fill a significant need for Seattle in the 2013 season. He was introduced on Monday after his one-year contract with the Mariners was finalized over the weekend.
Bay said he hopes a fresh start with the Mariners can put three seasons of struggles — mostly due to injuries — with the New York Mets in the past.
“Where ever I ended up was going to be a fresh start and the chance to do it here in my backyard, so to speak, will be nice,” said Bay, who grew up in British Columbia and played college ball at Gonzaga. “That’s all I was looking for. It didn’t work out for whatever reason and it was kind of a mutual split. I want to start fresh and wipe the slate clean and that’s what I get to do here.”
After signing a $66 million, four-year deal before the 2010 season, the three-time All-Star hit .234 in three injury-plagued seasons with 26 homers and 124 RBIs, including a .165 average with eight homers and 20 RBIs this year. Sidelined by concussions and rib injuries, he played just 288 games for the Mets.
Bay’s contract with the Mets was terminated last month. Bay was owed $16 million for next season and a $3 million buyout of a 2014 option, plus the final $2 million installment of his $8.5 million signing bonus was payable by next June. The agreement to terminate his deal allowed the Mets to spread out the payments.
It also made Bay a low-risk, potential high-reward deal for whoever he signed with. An All-Star in 2005, 2006 and 2009, Bay signed with the Mets after hitting .267 in his final season for Boston with career bests of 36 homers and 119 RBIs.
“I got banged up a little bit. Not an excuse, just the reality and that didn’t help. I don’t think that was the No. 1 reason,” Bay said. “I just think I couldn’t really get on track. I couldn’t just move forward. I was always stuck in one gear and I couldn’t get going.”
Because of his injury history, the Mariners went to great lengths once an agreement was reached. Bay was examined by two team doctors and a neurosurgeon to make sure he was fully recovered from the concussion problems that lingered during his time with the Mets.
Bay said he’s been fully engaged in his offseason workout program for the last six weeks.
“I’ve gotten great reports on his winter program, what he’s doing right now being very prepared for the season,” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “It just feels like the right thing to do.”
Bay said he’ll take whatever role he can earn with Seattle, even if that means being in a platoon in the outfield. Manager Eric Wedge said if Bay can revert to the form he had in Boston and Pittsburgh, he could be exactly the right-handed bat the Mariners lineup needs.
While Seattle’s lineup is heavy on youth and left-handed hitters, Jesus Montero and his .260 average was the only Seattle right-handed hitter who played more than half the season to hit above .230.
“He brings a lot that we just don’t have here,” Wedge said.
Seattle doesn’t expect this to be the end of its search for offense. The Mariners have been linked to discussions with Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher, among other free agent options. As usual, Zduriencik remained tight-lipped about where things stand.
“We’re going through a lot of dialogue,” he said. “We have a lot of discussions going with different angles and we’ll see where it all ends up at. Right now people are weighing their options and trying to figure out what’s best for the client and player, and we’re trying to be fairly aggressive.”