Mariners agree to deal with free-agent outfielder Bay

NASHVILLE — General manager Jack Zduriencik wouldn’t comment on it. Manager Eric Wedge at least acknowledged it. And sources within the Seattle Mariners organization confirmed it.

The Mariners agreed in principle to a one-year contract with free-agent outfielder Jason Bay on Wednesday afternoon.

“I can’t comment on that right now,” Zduriencik said early Wednesday evening at baseball’s winter meetings.

But by then it was a pretty common understanding that the one-time All-Star outfielder with the Pirates and Red Sox would be signing with the Mariners.

Bay will have to undergo a physical before officially signing the contract. And because it will be a major-league contract, the Mariners must place Bay on their 40-man roster. As of Wednesday, the 40-man roster was full, meaning a player would have to be designated for assignment to make room.

Since Bay, who was born in British Columbia and played collegiately at North Idaho and Gonzaga, resides in Kirkland, there’s a chance the deal could be announced as early Friday.

Rumors of how much the Mariners are going to pay Bay have varied. A report from CBS Sports said Bay was going to get “seven figures” — implying that it would be in the millions. But expect the deal to be a one-year contract for around $700,000, according to sources. There may be some incentives as well.

This move in no way stops Zduriencik’s pursuit for hitting.

“We’ve had several meetings today with clubs and player representatives,” Zduriencik said. “We are still going to push forward and explore every option. You just keep doing your work and hope something clicks.”

While Zduriencik wouldn’t comment specifically on Bay, Wedge did talk a little about Bay and the possibility of success.

“He’s a guy that we’ve been talking to, but nothing’s done yet,” Wedge said. “It’s an interesting story, it’s an interesting situation. If you are able to make it happen, you’ve got to feel good about taking a chance on a guy that’s been a great performer at times at the big-league level. Add some strength with a right-handed bat. He’s a high character guy, hard worker, good personal. He’s had a tough couple of years.”

Tough might be an understatement.

Bay had a solid 2009 season, hitting .267 with 36 homers and 119 RBI and a .921 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).

On the heels of that season, he signed a 4-year, $66 million deal with the New York Mets. But Bay never lived up to the contract. He started off slowly and was hampered by an assortment of injuries. He missed games, and when he did play, he didn’t produce. He became the face of the Mets’ struggles.

During his three seasons with the Mets, Bay played in 288 games. He had 1,125 plate appearances, and hit .234 with a .318 on-base percentage, a .369 slugging percentage and struck out 285 times.

This past season he was plagued by concussion effects and then saw his playing time dwindle. It was to the point that the Mets decided to buy him out of the remainder of his contract and let him become a free agent.

Bay was owed $16 million in salary, a $3 million buyout and $2 million from his signing bonus.

Could Bay return to his 2009 form? It seems unlikely. But he could be able to contribute to a team in dire need of offense.

It’s a low-risk, perhaps medium-reward move.

Bay is a low-maintenance player in the clubhouse, and the type of presence Wedge would like to have around his young team.

The Mariners have a glut of outfielders, but there are questions surrounding all of them. Michael Saunders is coming off a semi-breakout year, but still needs to be better. Franklin Gutierrez has played in just 132 games combined the past two seasons, and has not been able to stay healthy. Eric Thames and Casper Wells have yet to show any sustained consistency at the big-league level.

“I think they all need to take the next step,” Zduriencik said. “You have to leave your doors wide open.”

There are no guarantees for roster spot, let alone a starting spot for Bay.

With such a low contract, the Mariners could easily part ways with Bay if he can’t contribute.

“We have to see how it all plays out,” Wedge said. “Nothing’s done yet. If it does play out, I think we’re going to have a few situations like that.”

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