PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Rod Barajas felt pretty good heading into free agency. He was coming off a solid 2009 season and was sure he would find a team quickly.
It took much longer than he expected but Barajas finally has a new home.
The veteran catcher joined the New York Mets on Wednesday after finalizing a $500,000, one-year contract, putting his disappointing winter behind him and muddying the team's situation behind the plate.
"It was tough," he said, sitting in the home dugout at New York's spring facility. "Going into this offseason, if you had told me that I wouldn't sign until camp had started I would say, 'You're crazy.' It was a little nerve-racking. I just wanted to be a part of a team and start preparing myself and get out to wherever I needed to go and get ready for baseball."
Barajas batted just .226 with the Toronto Blue Jays last year, but he had 19 homers and a career-high 71 RBIs. He also threw out 34 percent of potential base stealers.
He pondered a return to Texas, where he played from 2004-06, before deciding to sign with New York for a deal that could be worth up to $2 million. The Mets designated left-hander Arturo Lopez for assignment to make room on their 40-man roster.
"I think this is a team that last year on paper was just as good as anyone in the National League, and unfortunately when you go through the injuries and lose the players they lost, it's going to be tough to win," Barajas said.
"The way I look at it is just about everyone is back here again, everyone is healthy and I feel like this was a good chance to be on a team where I could play quite a bit and also win."
The addition of the 34-year-old Barajas gives the Mets six catchers in camp who played in the majors last year, with no clear starter. Only two -- Josh Thole and Omir Santos -- were with New York in 2009.
The Mets made a play for Bengie Molina over the winter but he decided to return to the San Francisco Giants when New York wouldn't give him a second year. Henry Blanco signed a one-year deal and Chris Coste and Shawn Riggans agreed to a minor league contracts.
"It will be interesting," manager Jerry Manuel said of the catching logjam. "No, I don't think in my years can recollect having that type of experience in camp. Usually that position has already been separated for the most part."
Barajas, who has played in at least 104 games in four of the last six years, is considered the favorite to earn the starting job, but Manuel insisted it was open heading into New York's first full-squad workout on Thursday.
"I'm not going to anoint that particular spot at this point," he said.
Barajas' base salary would increase to $900,000 if he appears on the 25-man active roster during the regular season. He can earn $1.1 million in performance bonuses based on games started at catcher: $50,000 for 70, $150,000 for 80, $100,000 for 85, and $200,000 each for 90, 100, 110 and 120.
Thole was at Double-A Binghamton when he was promoted to the majors last September, and he hit .321 with nine RBIs in 17 games with New York. The 23-year-old rookie appears ticketed for Triple-A with the signing of Barajas, with Santos possibly going from a legitimate candidate for the starting nod to Thole's backup in the minors.
Then again, a big spring by any of the catchers in camp could alter the situation.
"It's just like anything. If this locker room's filled with catchers or if there's two of us here fighting for a position, I'm going to do the same thing," Thole said. "Going to go out there, I'm going to catch my bullpens, I'm going to work hard and everything will fall in place."