The general consensus amongst Mets’ fans is that when they trade for or sign a star player, said star player will either get injured or lose his ability to play at a level which justified the aforementioned acquisition. There is a long list of examples dating back many years to justify this feeling – from George Foster, Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray, Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez (sans 2005), Carlos Beltran (sans 2006-2008), Johan Santana (he has pitched well when healthy), etc. True, there have been some that panned out such as Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza. But for the most part, big name acquisitions haven’t been the Mets specialty over the years.
Generally speaking, it comes as a surprise when these star players fail to live up to their hype and expectations. I admittedly supported almost every acquisition that was made involving these big names. That brings me to the topic at hand. In the winter of 2009, there were two big name free agent hitters on the market – Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Everyone knew Holliday would be worth more money and wanted to stay in St. Louis, so it came as no surprise when he re-signed with the Cardinals. Bay was available and was the perfect match for the Mets who were in desperate need of a left fielder and powerful bat in the middle of the lineup. Bay had experience playing in a big market environment with the Red Sox the previous year and a half, and he had a great reputation of being a hard-working player and a positive clubhouse guy. The Mets inked Bay to a 4-year, $65 million contract that was generally well-received by fans and the media. He would solifiy left field and provide a presence in the middle of the Mets’ lineup while also taking some pressure off of David Wright.
As it turned out, the only impact Bay really had was in a Sunday Night game against the Yankees where he hit two homeruns off of C.C. Sabathia. Check that, the other impact he had was with the outfield wall which gave him a concussion and ended his season in late July 2010. His final statistics for his first year on the Mets were a .259 batting average, 6 homeruns, and 47 RBI. In his previous six full seasons, he had never hit less than 21 homeruns or driven in less than 81. He clearly hit rock bottom, right?
Coming into 2011, Bay was fully recovered and ready to make up for the lost season that was 2010. However, just before Opening Day, he suffered an oblique injury during batting practice that would land him on the disabled list for most of April. By the time he came back, it was almost 9 months since he had seen a pitch from a big league pitcher in a regular season game. The Mets got off to an awful start, but Bay’s return coincided with a six-game winning streak that brought the Mets back to respectability. However, since the beginning of May, Bay has been non-existent in terms of production with the bat. In 39 games, he is hitting .207 with 2 homeruns and 10 RBI. Yes, 10 RBI. Ruben Tejada has 9 RBI thus far – just for comparison. He only has 4 doubles along with those 2 homeruns giving him a slugging percentage of a whopping .279. And this is supposed to be the Mets’ cleanup hitter?
As bad as those statistics are, it is even worse when you watch him play everyday as I do. He looks completely lost at the plate with no idea how to approach each at bat. He cannot catch up to average fastballs, and he is consistently fooled by off-speed and breaking pitches away. When he does make contact, he either softly grounds out to the left side of the infield or pops up to the outfield. He has become an automatic out and makes Rey Ordonez look like Willie Mays.
Given the Mets’ injuries, they have been relying on Bay more than ever to anchor their lineup that consists of Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and a bunch of minor leaguers. Instead, Bay has been outplayed and outperformed by guys like Jason Pridie, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, and Ruben Tejada. It reached the point where Bay has become a liability to the Mets because he is contributing nothing from an offensive standpoint. Manager Terry Collins has moved Bay down in the order to try and take some pressure off of him, but that didn’t work. Now, C0llins has benched Bay on several occasions and almost looks like he is creating some sort of platoon in left field.
Granted, if Bay starts hitting then he plays everyday – no questions asked. But I must give Terry Collins credit for proactively dealing with Bay’s lack of production because he was hurting the team by being in there. Collins wants to win, and despite having a banged up roster, he is going to put a lineup together that gives the Mets the best chance to win. Right now, Jason Bay does not give the team the best chance to win. Kudos to Collins for ignoring Bay’s contract and the back of his baseball card. To his credit, Bay seems like a class act and has handled all of this with dignity. He doesn’t have any history of selfish behavior, so there shouldn’t be concern over that. Bay has to straighten himself out, and then he will be right back where he should be. But until then, he cannot continue to hurt the team by being in the middle of that lineup producing absolutely nothing.
What could help Bay resolve his issues? Perhaps a two-week trip down to the minors to work on his mechanics and timing would serve him well. It has worked in the past for pitchers Steve Trachsel and Bobby Jones. But Bay would have to agree to the demotion and buy into the theory that it will help him. He is just going to have to keep working on his swing and his approach, and somehow regain the stroke that netted him a $65 million contract. If he cannot do this, than Mets fans are going to have fonder memories of Mo Vaughn than Jason Bay.