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Former teammates give Bay glowing reviews

Boston's Jason Bay celebrates after hitting a two-run

Boston's Jason Bay celebrates after hitting a two-run home run against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park in Boston. (August 12, 2009) Credit: AP

The last time Jason Bay changed teams, the power broker helping to swing the deal downplayed expectations somewhat - or at least tried to keep them in perspective.

"The nice thing about Bay's makeup is he knows who he is and he doesn't try to be more than that," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein told the media after bringing Bay to Boston in 2008 in a three-team trade that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers just before the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline. "He's very comfortable with who he is as a person. He's not going to put on airs or try to change the way he plays the game, the way he acts, just because he's in a different environment."

Despite enjoying success at the major-league level, Bay wasn't all that well-known then, having played for the perennially awful Pirates the previous 41/2 years, including his Rookie of the Year season in 2004.

The translation of Epstein's remark: The guy doesn't have to replace Ramirez all by himself, and we don't expect him to.

When Bay, assuming he passes his physical, is introduced by the Mets this week as their new leftfielder, the topics will be far different - first and foremost that his new team, which ranked last in the majors with 95 homers in 2009, will expect plenty.

Bay, a Mets farmhand in 2002 before being traded, has the pedigree to provide the middle-of-the-lineup power the Mets need. He hit .293 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 49 games with the Red Sox in 2008 and followed that up with a standout 2009 season, hitting .267 with a career-best 36 homers and 119 RBIs. He had a .384 on-base percentage and a .537 slugging percentage.

Bay, a very good pull hitter, has hit 30-plus home runs and recorded 100-plus RBIs four of his last five seasons.

His 2009 made Bay one of the jewels of the year's free-agent class, resulting in his four-year deal, with a vesting option for a fifth, for about $66 million with the Mets.

Sean Casey, a former teammate of Bay's with the Pirates and the Red Sox, said Thursday on WFAN that the Mets couldn't have done much better, both in terms of the person and the player they're getting.

"Awesome signing, awesome signing," Casey said. "If you're going to give someone $66 million, you want a guy that you know is going to show up every night, that's going to be accountable for what he does, that's going to work hard and is going to play hard every night, and Jason Bay fits that bill."

The Red Sox, after Bay rejected their final offer of four years and $60 million, directed their resources toward signing pitcher John Lackey and adding outfielder Mike Cameron.

After Bay agreed to terms with the Mets, Boston's Kevin Youkilis said he will be missed.

"It's definitely going to be tough for all of us," Youkilis told The Boston Globe. "Jason was a close friend. A joy to play with him. Great ballplayer."

Casey, in his radio interview, said that despite metrics such as UZR (ultimate zone rating) that show Bay to be a poor leftfielder, fans will be surprised at his glovework.

"When I hear people say he's below average defensively, I totally disagree," Casey said. "I've seen it firsthand. This guy can play leftfield."

When Bay was traded to Boston in 2008, he said, "I couldn't have picked a better place to go."

Bay truly did pick his destination this time, though questions abound because of how long he pondered the Mets' offer, the only one besides Boston's that became public, before making up his mind.

"The Mets basically bid against themselves," an industry source said last week.

Which, of course, doesn't mean things won't work out.

And Casey, still friendly with Bay, said that delay aside, the outfielder is where he wants to be.

"If he didn't want to be a Met, he wouldn't be a Met," Casey said on WFAN. "He's excited to go to New York. Obviously, he played in Boston, so I don't think the media is going to be that big a deal for his personality. But he wants to be a Met. He wouldn't have signed in New York if he didn't want to be a Met, there's no doubt about that."

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