NEW YORK — The out-of-contention Mets started their veteran dispersal by trading first baseman Lucas Duda to the Tampa Bay Rays for minor league pitcher Drew Smith.

Expected to contend for an NL East title, the Mets started Thursday night 47-52, 13 1/2 games behind first-place Washington and nine games out of a wild-card berth.

Duda is eligible for free agency after the World Series, as are Mets outfielders Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, second baseman Neil Walker, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and reliever Addison Reed. Reliever Jerry Blevins would be eligible if the Mets decline a $7 million club option.

The 31-year-old Duda is hitting .246 with 17 homers and 37 RBIs.

“It’s one of those things. It happens,” Duda said in San Diego. “Very blessed to be in the position that I am with the New York Mets. First class organization from top to bottom. I thank them for everything they did for me, and I’m excited to join the Rays. They’re in the hunt and I think just overall excited.”

Duda had heard rumors about his possible trade.

“I don’t think you can really prepare for it. It just kind of happens and you just kind of deal with it and accept it and kind of be open to it,” he said. “But like I said, I’m extremely excited and I’m looking forward to starting a new step.”

Granderson held onto Duda’s left leg as the first baseman walked out, prompting laughter.

“He’s been a tremendous part of this team for a long time and we wish him all the best and thank him for everything he’s done here in New York,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s very responsible for our success in 2015 and 2016, and we wish him all the best.”

Smith, a 23-year-old right-hander, was a third-round draft pick by Detroit two years ago and was dealt to Tampa Bay in April. He is 1-2 with a 1.60 ERA with seven saves in 31 games this season for four minor league teams ranging from Class-A to Triple-A.

Earlier Thursday, the Rays acquired left-hander Dan Jennings from the Chicago White Sox for minor league first baseman Casey Gillaspie, the 20th overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft. Outfielder Shane Peterson was designated for assignment to clear space on the 25-man roster for Jennings and the 40-man roster for Duda.


More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball