The Mets made their initial splash in the free agent market by signing Jason Bay to a four year, $66 million deal – with a vesting option that would make it 5/$80…
Shall we overanalyze this?
Jason Bay is a pretty darned good player. He can hit – hits for some power, has some patience at the plate even though he does have fits of strikeouts from time to time. He can run a little bit, and while his reputation doesn’t support it, last year his defensive stats in left field weren’t half bad. Boston left fielders, despite having a slightly below average number of outfield putouts relative to the AL, made 4.63 more plays than the average left fielder for every 800 balls in play – second to Seattle (about five guys, none of whom were bad defensive options – Balentien, Chavez, et al.) – so if Bay is a lousy outfielder (and he doesn’t have the range to cover center anymore) it didn’t show up in his stats last season. For the record, Bay was above average in 2006, league average in 2007, and below average in 2008 – so my take on it is that he’s not far from league average heading into next year.
He’s 31, so Bay is starting to get long in the tooth (31) and by the end of this deal, he might not be worth $14 million a year, but you never know.
Bay will likely get a spot in the middle of the Mets lineup. Think this through – Reyes, Castillo, Wright, Beltran, Bay – or Bay, Beltran, or something like that.
Bay struggled in the middle two months of the season while in Boston last year – oddly coinciding with the time he was asked to bat cleanup because David Ortiz had lost his bat speed (among other problems). When Bay was batting sixth in the lineup, he was REALLY good. The Mets, however, may not resign Carlos Delgado, and with Bay averaging 30 homers a year for the last six seasons, it’s easy to imagine him as the new cleanup hitter. Hopefully, this trend doesn’t stay with Bay – it hadn’t been a problem for him in Pittsburgh.
Given the struggles the Mets had last year were all tied to injuries – especially with the veterans – adding a 30+ outfielder wouldn’t have been high on my plans but the Mets had few other options. Gary Sheffield and Fernando Tatis are not viable outfielders, and Fernando Martinez (who is half of Sheffield’s age) doesn’t look ready to take over – he could use a full season at AAA. And Martinez is the closest thing to an outfielder prospect who could help immediately. Outfield options are players like Johnny Damon (expensive, old) or Bay (expensive, not young) or Matt Holliday (expensive, prime). The rest are question marks (Xavier Nady?) – so Bay is probably the best option the Mets had.
Now, to find a first baseman and a quality starting pitcher – the Mets, on paper and healthy, could return to being a contender in the NL East. I don’t totally BUY it, but crazier things have happened.