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.
For the May 24, 2011 list of newsworthy fantasy baseball events and happenings, I have truncated it down to five for this week. Before I delve into this week’s list, I must disclose something to you loyal readers. I am a lifelong Mets fan (hold your laughter and tears). This week has been even more embarassing to admit that, even after the last few years of collapses, disappointments and failures. If you haven’t heard, Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon was recently quoted in an article written by Jeffrey Toobin for the New Yorker where he essentially threw his three best players under the bus. He said Jose Reyes will never get Carl Crawford-type money in free agency, David Wright is not a superstar, and that he was a schmuck for signing Carlos Beltran to the 7 year/$119 million contract solely based on the 2004 playoffs (oh and that Beltran is now only 65-70% the player he once was). The disclosure I want to share with you is that Wilpon also said that my writing skills are mediocre at best and that I am as humorous as the German Funnybot from South Park. Thanks Mr. Wilpon. Onto the news.
5. No Way Jorge – Rockies starting pitcher Jorge de la Rosa suffered a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow which means he is likely headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery. De la Rosa felt discomfort early in his start tonight in the first game of a double-header against the Diamondbacks. The Rockies received the news no organization wants to to hear, especially when it comes to a valuable and successful left-handed starter. De la Rosa was already having a solid 2011 campaign as he was 5-2 with a 3.51 ERA and 52 strikeouts. Now he is headed for the DL and will likely miss the remainder of the season assuming he does go for the surgery. If you are in a keeper league and have the space, hold onto him as he should be back by the July 4 holiday in 2012 (assuming he has surgery in the very near future).
4. Concussion Discussion – Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts will be out at least several more weeks due to experiencing concussion-like symptoms as a result of a head-first slide he made. Head injuries are difficult to evaluate in terms of severity and ability to overcome. But this is just the next injury in a long line of injuries suffered by Roberts. Once considered one of the top options at second base in fantasy baseball leagues, Roberts has fallen into oblivion due to missing so much time over the past few years. His days of 50 stolen bases and 100 runs scored appear to be over, mostly because he cannot stay healthy. If you have DL spots on your roster, you should stash him. In all likelihood, Roberts will be back at some point unless his symptoms persist. If he is available on the waiver wire, he is definitely worth a pick up.
3. The Grandy Man Can – Yankees’ outfielder Curtis Granderson is having an MVP-type season as he has carried the Yankees through the first quarter of the season. After a four-hit night on Tuesday, Granderson is batting .275, 16 homeruns, 35 RBI, 37 runs scored, 6 stolen bases, an OPS hovering around .950, and a sudden ability to hit left-handed pitchers. He has been a fantasy stud thus far, and hitting in between Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira should provide him with great protection, lots of strikes to hit, and plenty of RBI chances. He will likely slow down his insane homerun pace, but in the end he should end up with 30-35 homeruns and 90 RBI depending on where he is in the lineup.
2. Go Back to Canada – Mets’ outfielder Jason Bay is the highest paid Canadian baseball player…ever. After putting up huge numbers for years with the Pirates and Red Sox, Bay signed a lucrative 4 year/$66 million contract.with the Mets prior to the 2010 season. In the year+ that he has been in the Mets organization, he has been nothing short of horrendous. Of course there was going to be a learning curve for him to readjust to National League pitching and deal with the unfriendly confines of Citi Field. Generally speaking people were patient with Bay in 2010, which ended early due to a concussion. Now in his second year with the Mets, Bay has been injured and unproductive the entire season. He left tonight’s game with a stiff right calf and a lingering .230 batting average, two homeruns, and under ten RBI. Keep an eye on Bay when and if he returns. He is quickly reaching the point where dropping him is a viable consideration.
1. Catcher in the Rye – Twins superstar catcher Joe Mauer should be starting to play in live games this week as he works his way back from bilateral leg weakness. Mauer is clearly a great hitter and someone the Twins will be banking on for many years to come. In order to preserve Mauer’s bat and career, he may be given a shot at a new position as the Twins start the process of getting him out from behind the plate. This makes sense on all levels. The rumors are that Mauer will be slowly transitioned to third base. If that is the case in 2011, then next year Mauer could actually be worth spending an early round pick on because he will still qualify at catcher yet be at a position that can keep him healthy and on the field everyday.
As if there hasn’t been enough drama surrounding the Mets with their pending lawsuit in the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, employing two people who were caught distributing steroids in their clubhouse and stealing team memorabilia, and their epic failures on the field since the end of the 2006 season, owner Fred Wilpon has certainly created more. In an article for the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/30/110530fa_fact_toobin?currentPage=all), Wilpon spoke to Jeffrey Toobin about Bernie Madoff and their history. While that topic in itself is controversial, it was the more casual words spoken by Wilpon about three of his premiere players that has garnered a lot of attention.
Wilpon provided three honest but critical assessments of his players. Regarding the Mets’ prized possession and pending free agent shortstop, Jose Reyes, Wilpon said he “He’s a racehorse. He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” (referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.” Then David Wright, the face of the Mets, was assessed. “He’s a really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.” Finally, it was Carlos Beltran’s turn – the same Beltran who still has his bat frozen on his shoulder as Adam Wainwright’s curveball crossed the plate for strike three to end the 2006 NLCS. The same Beltran who parlayed a magical playoff run with the Hosuton Astros in 2004 into a seven year, $119 million contract before the 2005 season. Wilpon, clearly exhibiting regret about this decision, said referring to himself: “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series. He’s sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was.”
After much speculation in the off-season and heading into spring training, it was officially announced on February 27 that Carlos Beltran would shift from center field to become the Mets rightfielder. Apparently, he informed manager Terry Collins that he didn’t think his knee could hold up playing centerfield, a position he has excelled at since reaching the major leagues full-time in 1999. As we all know, Beltran underwent a knee operation in early 2010, against the wishes of the Mets medical staff and front office. This surgery cost Beltran the first 4 months of the 2010 season, and by the time he returned after the All Star break, it was clear that he wasn’t fully healed.
Based on where they are in the respective careers, Angel Pagan is the better option for the Mets in center field. He is younger, faster and healthier. His arm is at least above average, so he will do a fine job taking on that role. Beltran now shifts to right field, which generally speaking does not require as much running and physical exertion merely because of the field’s dimensions. However, Citi Field is unique because of its right field configuration with the angles, walls and fences. While Beltran is better suited to play right field, this will not be an easy transition for him. In fact, he may be putting himself in more danger with this move because he will have to stop short against the corner wall, possibly slide into a wall, and plant his feet and stop short to play carems and angles.
Regardless of the pitfalls, this move makes the most sense for the Mets. Despite whatever corporate mantra and politically correct statements come from the team, the reality is that the Mets will not be in the playoff picture this year. They need to start focusing on the future, starting with 2012. Beltran’s contract expires at the end of this season, and while he may very well put up huge numbers as he seeks a big payday, he is likely not part of the Mets’ long-term plans. Putting Beltran in right field will potentially increase his trade value because other teams may be hesitant to acquire damages goods and throw him into center field. If the Mets can get anything in return for him in terms of prospects or younger quality players, then it is worth exploring.
Regardless of the motivations, Beltran did exactly the opposite of what he did in 2010. Last year, he impermissibly had surgery which cost him several months. He then forced his way back into the major league lineup when it was apparent he wasn’t ready. The Mets were in playoff contention at the 2010 All Star break. When the second half began on the West coast, Beltran returned to the lineup and things went south very quickly. That is not to say the Mets’ failures were directly related to Beltran, but something can be said about putting him back into the mix when he was a liability to the team. In comparison, this spring he has now taken the initiative to tell his manager that he is limited in his abilities due to the lingering injury and slow healing process. This allows Terry Collins to adjust his defensive alignment and give Angel Pagan the necessary time and practice to establish himself as the team’s true center fielder.