In December of 2009, outfielder Jason Bay signed a four-year, $66 million contract with the New York Mets. The deal was viewed as a bit of a reach at the time; the prevailing rationale being that Mets GM Omar Minaya overpaid for the services of his new acquisition. Still, Bay was a commodity and had attracted more than a few suitors following the monster 2009 season he put together as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Only 30 years old, it wasn’t a stretch to think that at minimum Bay would be a productive middle of the order threat for the majority of his contract.
A great deal has changed in the two plus seasons Bay has been a member of the New York Metropolitans. Gone are the days of Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel, both unceremoniously dumped after the 2010 season and replaced by the duo of Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins. The Madoff Scandal played a major role in the Wilpon’s drastically scaling back their payroll, transforming the team from one of MLB’s big spenders to a middle of the pack outfit. On the field the team has been playing hard for TC, but they are currently trying to avoid their fourth consecutive losing season. Reyes is gone. Beltran and K-Rod shipped out.
Mired in the doldrums of another dreadful season, Bay has been a lightning rod with Mets fans from pretty much the first time he suited up. For a player who had seven respectable seasons prior to arriving in Queens, the lack of production he has put forth with the Mets has been stunning. To put it bluntly, he has been awful; an absolute bust. Weighing the size of his contract versus actual production and it’s hard to fathom a team paying so much and receiving so little in return (Carl Pavano anyone?). The latest kicker is that Bay (who entered Wednesday’s game with .157 average) will be a platoon player for the rest of season , playing primarily against left-handed pitchers only.
How did Bay fall so far so fast?
Part of his decline can be attributed to injuries and a few unlucky breaks. In his first season with the Mets, Bay suffered a concussion which cut short his season and limited him to playing in only 95 games. He started his 2011 campaign on the DL with a rib injury, and though he ended up appearing in 123 games he was ineffective and a shell of his former self. This year Bay has once again has been unable to stay healthy, dealing with a fractured rib after trying to make a diving catch in the outfield.
Injuries heal slower as you get older, and with Bay now in his thirties the recovery time is longer and the bat speed isn’t quite what it used to be. It’s not uncommon to see pitchers throw low 90 fastballs right by him with regularity, an occurrence that was rare only a few short years ago.
Some think his decline is related to the dimensions of the pitcher friendly Citi Field. For most of his career Bay had displayed a decent amount of power, five times exceeding 30 home runs in a season. I caught a bunch of his games when he played for the Red Sox at the tail end of ’08 season and all of ’09, and there stretches where he carried that team offensively. He replaced Manny in left-field and there was very little drop-off, if any. As a Yankee fan, I can even admit that during that period I preferred seeing David Ortiz at the plate in a big spot instead of Bay, as he crushed us on a few occasions (even getting the better of the great Mo Rivera ). I realize that Fenway is a hitter friendly park and that it might’ve bolstered his 2009 stat line of 36 home runs and 119 RBIs to some degree, but you can’t discount that he put up big numbers in Pittsburgh prior to arriving in Boston from 2004-2008.
Now Bay’s not the only player whose power numbers have falling off the reservation by virtue of playing in Citi Field, and it would be an easy crutch to lean on if his struggles were limited strictly to his home ball park. Unfortunately he isn’t hitting anywhere, be it home or away, and in his time with the Mets he actually has a higher batting average at home than on the road. Additionally, following three years of complaints and with Mets players continuing to have issues hitting the ball out of the massive park, the team decided to shift things around and shorten some of the dimensions. This change to appease hitters has yet to have much of an impact on Bay’s fortunes at the dish.
It’s entirely possible that Bay’s problems might be more mental than anything. Maybe the pressure of his contract and the weight of expectations got in his head a little. Compound those factors with injuries and slow starts and it has all eroded rather quickly for him. After playing in Boston it’s hard to imagine that the relentless pressure of the New York media has gotten to him, but perhaps answering the same questions day after day has worn him down.
With another year left on his contract for a guaranteed $16 million, Bay will likely be a sore topic of discussion for Mets fans in 2013. Things can always change, but at this point Alderson has indicated that he has no plans to cut Bay loose and eat the remaining year of his contract. One things for certain, Collins is playing people based on production and not letting the size of Bay’s contract influence which players he puts out on the field.
Bay has always been a standup guy and the optimist in me hopes he can turn it around. At Mets games it has gotten so bad with the boos and catcalls that you often find yourself rooting for the guy to succeed. If there is any consolation, next year is a contract year for Bay. Knowing the Mets luck, he will come through with a throwback season just in time to leave.