Mientkiewicz fills first base void
The Mets acquired the former Gold Glove first baseman from the Red Sox on Wednesday for minor league first baseman Ian Bladergroen.
The 30-year-old Mientkiewicz won the 2001 AL Gold Glove with Minnesota and caught the final out of Boston's World Series sweep of St. Louis last October, the first Series title for the Red Sox since 1918. He kept the ball, which the Red Sox want back.
Mientkiewicz said Boston asked to have it for one year, he intends to comply and the sides expect to reach an agreement within days. He caught the ball when it was thrown to him by pitcher Keith Foulke in St. Louis on Oct. 27.
"There was never a fight, there was never words exchanged. It was very cordial, and we worked something out," he said. "I want the fans to see it, and that's what both the Red Sox and I agreed on. They waited a long time to see that ball and to live it. The fact that I had it was just so we could keep it and give it to the fans and let them see it."
Mientkiewicz said he will not receive any money under the deal and "probably" would get the ball back after a year. He emphasized that he's "doing everything they asked me to do."
"I didn't expect all of this with the ball," he added. "Sometimes in life you think you're doing the right thing and it doesn't turn out that way. That's kind of what happened here. I didn't think it was going to come out to this. Like I said, I gave Derek Lowe the Game 7 ball from the ALCS, and no one seems to want that one."
The projected lineup for the Mets in 2005:
SS Jose Reyes
He already knows what he would do if the Mets come within three outs of a World Series title.
"I'll probably ask before the ninth inning: `What do you guys want me to do with this?' he said.
According to Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, "the ball issue was never a factor in this trade or in this negotiating process. We had a baseball decision to make."
"I'm honored the fact that I was probably second or third option," Mientkiewicz said. "There's things that I bring to the table that he doesn't."
With the Red Sox, Mientkiewicz was used in the postseason as late-inning replacement for Kevin Millar, the extroverted first baseman whom Epstein called "an integral part of our clubhouse chemistry."
"Both guys are everyday, winning first basemen in my mind," Epstein said. "I wish you could combine them. But in the end, I think to be fair to both guys it was the right thing to do to put them in a position where they could get a chance to play every day."
Mientkiewicz came up to the major leagues with Minnesota in 1998 and was dealt to the Red Sox last July 31. A career .272 hitter, he slumped to a combined .238 with six homers and 35 RBI last year for the Twins and Red Sox.
"I'm not 38 years old trying to hang on to a career. I feel like I've got a lot of good years left," Mientkiewicz said. "When I got over there, my intention was to play every day. But under the circumstances, Kevin got hot. I never quite got back in there, but I accepted my role because I knew it would be better for the team. I knew I could do it for three months."
"It just makes our defense that much better," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said.
Mientkiewicz, who probably will be backed up by Andres Galarraga, agreed last February to a $7 million, two-year contract that calls for a $3.75 million salary this year. The deal includes a $4 million team option for 2006 with a $450,000 buyout.
As part of the trade, the Red Sox agreed to pay the buyout if the Mets decline the option.
With Delgado headed to Florida, Minaya sounded uncertain how hard to push to sign free-agent outfielder Magglio Ordonez, coming off two knee operations.
"We have talked about him. There's no doubt he's a great hitter," Minaya said. "Will we explore that? We'll probably just explore it."
"I think it is most likely both those guys will be back with us next year," Minaya said. "I think we're pretty close to being there. I feel very comfortable right now with the team the way it is."
Bladergroen, 21, hit .342 with 13 homers and 74 RBI in 269 at-bats last year for the Capital City Bombers of the Class A South Atlantic League. He tore cartilage and damaged ligaments in his left wrist on July 1, had surgery and missed the rest of the season.
"We think he's got a chance with continued development to be an effective big league player." Epstein said. "He has a chance to hit and hit with power."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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