NEW YORK -- Proceeding under the knowledge that Billy Wagner might not return to active duty this season, the Mets took another step toward repairing their bullpen void on Wednesday, signing former Rays closer Al Reyes to a Minor League contract and assigning him to Double-A Binghamton. It's a small move that could produce significant results, if Reyes can prove worthy of some late-inning assignments in the big leagues.

"Hopefully," general manager Omar Minaya said, "he'll have an opportunity to pitch in a pennant race here in September."

Reyes, 38, was 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA in 26 games for the Rays this season, before being designated by assignment on Aug. 9. His role had been reduced by the resurgence of Troy Percival, who has thrived closing games for upstart Tampa Bay.

But the Mets are perhaps more interested in what Reyes did last season, when he earned 26 saves in 30 chances as the Rays' primary closer. Should Reyes prove capable of producing similar results with the Mets, he may be given the keys to the ninth inning in Wagner's absence.

"I feel comfortable that the guys we have here will get the job done," Minaya said. "But at the same time, if you have to go outside and bring a guy in, we've done that."

The move comes one day after an MRI showed that Wagner had increased swelling in his left elbow, putting the balance of his season into jeopardy. And it comes three days after the Mets acquired reliever Luis Ayala from the Nationals for infielder Anderson Hernandez, bolstering a bullpen that ranks near the bottom of the league.

Wagner has been on the disabled list since Aug. 5 with left elbow inflammation, and manager Jerry Manuel is proceeding in his absence with a committee of closers that includes Ayala, Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoeneweis. But Manuel has also made clear his desire to find one pitcher who can exclusively handle the ninth inning duties.

Reyes is simply another candidate for that job.

"You're dealing in areas with guys who are not proven," Minaya said. "This guy is proven, but that doesn't mean that he's going to be better than the guys we have here."