Padres acquire Cameron in trade with Mets
SAN DIEGO -- Mike Cameron will return to baseball in the same outfield where he was so frighteningly injured last summer.
Cameron's trade from New York to San Diego was finalized after the Padres were assured by doctors on Friday that the outfielder has no lingering vision or health problems from his season-ending, face-to-face collision with Mets teammate Carlos Beltran in the Petco Park outfield on Aug. 11.
The Mets got utilityman Xavier Nady from San Diego.
Cameron was playing right field when he was hurt. He will play center for the Padres, who've been pursuing him since before Petco Park opened in 2004 featuring a huge outfield, particularly center and right.
"Maybe it's a test from a higher power, to be able to come back and play in the same place," Cameron said. "I was thinking the other day, 'Man, I'm going to the same place.' I guess the good Lord wants me to get rid of my fears right away. I'll be all right."
Cameron and Beltran collided while pursuing a sinking liner. Cameron was hurt the worst, breaking his nose, his right orbital socket and his cheekbones and sustaining a concussion. He had surgery a day later.
Cameron joked about it Friday, saying his wife loves San Diego because she spent extra time in the city in August.
"For her to get a good experience, I had to be in the hospital for a week," he said.
Padres general manager Kevin Towers said Cameron passed thorough vision and physical exams, and the outfielder said he's as close to 100 percent healthy as possible.
"I didn't have to rehab anything," Cameron said. "My limbs were fine. It was my face that had to heal. I had to lose a little beauty for three months. Other than that, everything's good. I'd be ready in two weeks if they needed me to play."
The Padres tried to sign Cameron as a free agent after the 2003 season, but he accepted a $19.5 million, three-year deal from the Mets.
"I'm a big believer in fate," Towers said. "Things happen for a reason. We've been looking the last two to three years to find this type of athlete to roam the vast expanse of Petco Park."
The Padres also think Cameron will thrive offensively at Petco Park, where right-handed pull hitters fare better than left-handed pull hitters. Cameron hit at least 18 homers every season from 1999 to 2004 and had 12 last year before the collision.
Mets manager Willie Randolph said Cameron "is a a great guy, a hell of a player. He played hard for me this year and I'm going to miss him. It's just part of our whole putting together a team."
Cameron was uncomfortable playing right, where he was moved after the Mets signed Beltran last offseason. He said he met with Mets GM Omar Minaya after the season and expressed his desire to play center but added that he didn't demand a trade.
"He felt much more comfortable in center field than in right field," Minaya said. "I had to take that into account."
Said Cameron: "It's a great opportunity to get a chance to get back out on the field and play the game again. I'm looking forward to it. I appreciate the Padres giving me an opportunity to resume my dream of playing center field."
Nady started in all three outfield positions and at first and third base last season.
"Really, he just has not been given opportunity to play every day," Minaya said. "Based on our scouts, what we've seen, we feel he can be an everyday player at one of those positions."
Nady, a second-round draft pick in the 2000 draft, batted .261 with 13 homers and 43 RBI last year.
Cameron will be the Padres' third center fielder in as many seasons at Petco Park. Jay Payton was the starter during the inaugural season in 2004, and Dave Roberts made the bulk of the starts there last year.
Roberts remains on the roster. If the Padres offer him a contract by the Dec. 20 deadline, he would be eligible for salary arbitration. Towers said Roberts can play either of the corner outfield spots, and he is San Diego's only true leadoff hitter.
Meanwhile, the Mets and Philadelphia are believed to be the chief candidates to sign Billy Wagner, and Randolph would like the closer to make a decision soon.
"Ideally, yeah, because there are other people out there, obviously," Randolph said. "He is the big fish out there, more or less, so, yeah, you don't play your negotiating back and forth, have people use you."
Randolph was also among the Mets officials who had dinner with free-agent closer B.J. Ryan.
"Just chitchat, talking baseball, that's all it is, basically," he said, "let him know what we're all about, what we offer, get a little bit about what he wants, what's his thinking and what his goals and aspirations are."
Randolph didn't want to prejudge whether Manny Ramirez would object to having Boston trade him to the Mets.
"Manny can play anywhere he wants," he said. "We spoke last year about this same issue and Pedro [Martinez] and I got along great. I'm Willie Randolph. I'm not Grady Little and whoever you want to go in there with."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press