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Mets get their center fielder

NEW ORLEANS -- The New York Mets signed free agent outfielder Mike Cameron on Saturday, agreeing to terms on a three-year deal, ESPN's Peter Gammons has confirmed.

Cameron, who batted .253 with 18 homers and 76 RBI in a down season for the Mariners in 2003, is expected to become the Mets' regular center fielder. The Associated Press reports that Cameron's three-year deal is worth $19.5 million.

The two-time Gold Glove center fielder has been in New Orleans for the winter meetings. Cameron also had been courted by the A's and the Padres, but after spending four seasons in Seattle, he wanted to stay on the East Coast, as his family resides in Atlanta. The 2003 All-Star personally met with the Mets this week, and took phone calls from current players, who urged him to join the team.

"Some Mets players were very involved in the process," said Cameron's agent, Mike Nicotera.

Cameron, who turns 31 next month, replaced Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle when he was acquired from the Reds after the 1999 season. Cameron hit .253 last season with 18 homers, 70 RBIs and 17 steals.

Cameron has twice hit 25 homers in a year, and has power -- he hit four homers in four consecutive at-bats at Chicago in May 2002 -- but that's not what attracted the Mets' interest.

"His defense is the thing that really stands out, one of the
main reasons that he's a good fit here," Mets GM Jim Duquette said Friday. The Mets were desperate for an everyday center fielder, having tried without success to fill the full-time spot since trading Jay Payton during the 2002 season.

The Mets stumbled to a last-place finish in 2003, and their outfield defense was a glaring problem. Timo Perez, Roger Cedeno
and hobbled Cliff Floyd all struggled to track down balls, and the club was determined to acquire a high-caliber player to put out there.

Cameron still needs to pass a physical per his contract. The Mets would be his fourth team after he started with the Chicago White Sox, played a year in Cincinnati and moved to Seattle for the 2000 season.

"All the games he won in Seattle were very satisfying. There
was nothing more satisfying than helping to turn that Reds team
around," Nicotera said.

Cameron is a career .250 hitter with 131 home runs and 194
steals.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.