Mets sign Jose Bautista to major league deal, put him in starting lineup

The New York Mets on Tuesday announced they have signed veteran slugger Jose Bautista to a one-year major league contract.

Bautista started in left field and was batting fifth for the team's home game Tuesday night against the Miami Marlins, after catching a late-afternoon flight from Tampa, Florida, and arriving shortly before first pitch. He was wearing No. 11.

The Mets recently lost former Gold Glove center fielder Juan Lagares to a season-ending toe injury, and slugger Yoenis Cespedes is out with a strained right hip flexor, with no timetable for his return. General manager Sandy Alderson said Bautista provides outfield depth while New York battles injuries, but that the veteran also holds long-term value for the club.

"The outfield position has been thin for us over the last couple of weeks," Alderson said. "With Cespedes out, we've had to go with essentially the same three outfielders. Most of our depth at Triple-A is left-handed, so we had been looking at the possibility of a right-handed bat in the outfield who could spell our other outfielders and give us some offensive potential against left-handed pitchers.

"This is something we felt we should try to do. One of the things we don't want to do is create a similar situation to the one he just exited, a short-term stint based on injuries. ... Bottom line is, even with Cespedes back, we'll still only have four outfielders, plus Bautista would be five. So we feel there's room for him going forward. We'll just have to see how things go."

Bautista signed for the $545,000 major league minimum and was told he wouldn't be playing every day.

The 37-year-old had been released by the Atlanta Braves on Sunday a month after they picked up the outfielder in hopes he could add depth to the National League's top-scoring offense and shore up third base.

But the former Blue Jays star hit just .143 with two homers and five RBIs in 12 games with the Braves after having his contract purchased from Triple-A Gwinnett. The six-time All-Star struck out 12 times in 35 at-bats.

"We're excited to have him," Alderson said. "We think he gives us some balance, a threat against left-handed pitching and off the bench, and maybe a more expanded role depending on what happens."

Along with the corner outfield spots, Bautista could see action at third base and first base, too. Alderson said the newcomer was aware his performance would determine his playing time.

Bautista hit .203 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs in 157 games last season with Toronto, and went unsigned as a free agent during the winter.?He led the American League with 54 homers in 2010 and 43 in 2011. He has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the past eight seasons.

Alderson said his assistant, former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, was familiar with Bautista from their days in Toronto. Alderson said he had heard a couple of other teams were interested in signing Bautista.

To make room on the roster, New York optioned infielder Phillip Evans to Triple-A Las Vegas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.