OAKLAND — At this stage of his career, Jason Bay has no illusions. He knows his role on the Mariners is as a fifth outfielder, which might seem like quite a comedown for a three-time All-Star.
But Bay, whose presence on the Mariners’ roster was made official on Sunday when Casper Wells was designated for assignment, is deeply content with everything about his status — including what might be sporadic playing time.
The transaction finalized Seattle’s 25-man roster for Monday’s season-opening game with the A’s.
“It was kind of the first time I really had to make the team, even from 10 years ago and my first couple years,” Bay said. “I actually kind of liked it. It was different. I never really thought otherwise. I felt comfortable with myself and what I’ve done. From the day I signed here, I was on the team in my own mind. I had to still go out and do that and I’m glad I did.”
After three often-hellish years in New York, where a variety of circumstances kept him from living up to a four-year, $65-million contract with the Mets, Bay feels like he’s found a home. And that’s only partly because he resides in Kirkland with his wife, Kristen, and three children. The opportunity to finally experience a Seattle summer — brief though they tend to be — is just one of many perks for Bay.
“My wife busted my chops,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve lived in Seattle 12 years and never seen a summer, so I’m very excited about that.”
Bay, 34, realized that a clean break from the Mets was necessary. He hit just .165 last year in 70 games and had become a lightning rod for fan dissatisfaction.
“The fresh start is the big thing,” he said. “No matter what I was going to do in New York, it wasn’t going to be enough to make up for all the things I didn’t do. And I understood that. That’s why we came to the realization that a clean break was probably best for everybody.
“I came here knowing and being comfortable I wasn’t competing for a starting job. I knew that and embraced it. I consider myself a realist. I look around and see what’s going on and know where I stand and what my job is going to be. And I’m excited about it.”
Bay said it was huge for him to get off to a fast start in spring to keep negativity from creeping in. He wound up hitting .321 in Cactus League with two homers, while Wells hit .189 with 19 strikeouts in 53 at-bats. Wells was tied for second on the team with 14 runs batted in, but nine of those came in back-to-back games.
“Jason had a good camp for us,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s a solid veteran player. He’s a guy who came in in great shape. He moved around great all spring. Had a short, quick swing. I liked the way he moved around the bases. I liked the way he moved in the outfield, and I like what he brings to the clubhouse. Just a lot of positives there.”
Bay said he was given a strong indication on Friday he had made the team, but it didn’t become official until Seattle made the move with Wells. Procedurally, the Mariners couldn’t designate Wells until they had an excess on the 40-man roster, so pitcher D.J. Mitchell was selected to the 40-man roster and promptly optioned to Tacoma.
The Mariners, meanwhile, have 10 days to trade, release or outright Wells to the minor leagues. Wells does not have enough service time to decline a minor-league assignment. The 28-year-old Wells hit .228 with 10 homers and 36 RBI in 285 at-bats for the Mariners last year.
“We wanted to give it as much time as we could, and we did,” Wedge said. “We feel good about that process. Casper is a good ballplayer, too, but ultimately it came down to a tough decision, and we feel we made the best decision for the club right now and moving forward. We’ll have to see how our situation plays out.”
Wedge now faces the challenge of finding playing time for Bay and Raul Ibanez, the other backup outfielder behind starters Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Morse.
“I think we’re in a different situation this year where we feel everybody, from a position-player standpoint, can play and should play,” Wedge said. “That will be up to me and the coaching staff to work to get everybody in there. It will be particularly challenging early on, just because you have to force it a little bit. What you don’t want to have happen is these guys play all spring and then come out and not play for a week or two. We want to make sure we get everyone in there.”
Bay is prepared to accept whatever playing time he gets.
“I knew coming in I wasn’t going to play 162 games here,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to just contributing any way I can. When I get to play, give guys a break, whatever, it’s a different part of my career. I understand that. That being said, injuries and things happen.
“But I’m very comfortable with it. I talked to Wedge and Jack (Zduriencik) about where I stand and I think everybody sees it. You’re the fifth outfield guy and what happens, happens. But I’m actually quite happy with that. It’s a fun clubhouse, there’s a lot of reasons to be excited. And rather than look at it as what you’re not doing, I look at is as what I am doing. When I get in there, it’ll be fun and it’ll be baseball.”
• Felix Hernandez makes his sixth career opening-day start. He is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his five previous openers. “It’s always special,” he said. “Not just for me, but for all the guys.”
The Mariners also reassigned RHP Danny Farquhar, catcher Jesus Sucre, infielder Brad Miller and outfielder Endy Chavez to minor-league camp. Veteran Jeremy Bonderman accepted an assignment to Class AAA Tacoma, where he will continue his comeback from arm injuries.