Bay's Mariners comeback begins with a bang, as Mets owner roots him on
Jason Bay can't be sure what caused his struggles in Queens. But the separation agreement was a great idea, and Mets owner Jeff Wilpon remains in his corner.
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jason Bay’s first agreement with the Mets, the memorable four-year, $66 million deal he signed as a free agent from Boston, didn't work out well for either party. However, the winter separation agreement, put together faster than you can say Bay's name, looks like a hit all around.
Especially here with the Mariners.
Bay has appeared locked in this spring. He has four hits in eight at-bats, with four walks and two homers. Of course, it’s spring training. But some may recall that he looked so lost during springs with the Mets that he needed a compass to find his way to first base.
Even though it's early, he is hitting well enough to conjure ideas of getting his career back to where it was before his gut-wrenching Queens detour.
Bay, being a smart fellow, isn't ready to make any bold proclamations after hitting for a batting average last season that so unsightly it isn’t fit for a family newspaper. (It was .165, this is the Internet.)
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"I feel great," Bay said. "It's been nice. New team ... it's felt seamless."
Bay understands he has to prove himself to win at-bats with an improved Mariners team after averaging nine home runs his three seasons in New York following a six-season span where he averaged 30. Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, two more winter pickups, were brought here to play regularly, so Bay's competing with many others for playing time.
Bay's role is "undefined, as of right now," he said.
Bay understands that, and he makes no excuses for his dreadful three seasons in Queens. He blames no one but himself. He offers no alibis, suggests no explanations, points no fingers.
"All on me," he said.
He is off to a brilliant start out here in the desert. It is, of course, enough to drive a Mets person crazy. If Bay wasn't such a great guy, that is.
"I wish Jason nothing but the best," said Mets owner and COO and owner Jeff Wilpon. "He was a great teammate. He did everything he could. He put in a lot of work, and he was always at his locker. He’s a stand-up guy. It just didn't work out. It was best for him and for us to part ways.
"If he was a jerk, maybe I’d feel differently. But he’s a great person. I’ll root for Jason Bay 100 times out of 100 times."
Wilpon went so far as to call Bay an "amazing person." But for the Mets, he might be a bit of a cautionary tale. The deal they gave him was the largest free-agent contract in Mets history, though they ultimately signed him because Matt Holliday was going to get more money that winter (he got $120 million for seven) and take longer to sign.
The deal to extricate Bay isn’t one he's going to regret, though. The Mets got to defer $15 million of the $21 million they'll pay him (he's full salary) over two years, saving them about $850,000 through the deferrals. Bay received $500,000 from the Mariners and will add a $1 million roster bonus assuming he makes the Opening Day roster, with another potential $2 million in performance bonuses. So he could come out nearly $3 million ahead.
While the Mets saved pennies on the dollar, Wilpon figures it was best for both parties.
"I wished him the best," Wilpon said. "I hope it works out for him."
The original Bay deal worked out so badly for the Mets it might even make them think twice before diving into the next big one.
"I think it makes you pause for a second," Wilpon said. "If you can’t learn from your mistakes, then you are doomed to repeat them."
Meanwhile, Bay is trying to figure out what went wrong, or forget it, whatever works. It was hard to foresee, and to this day it is hard to explain.
It could be the city, the ballpark, the contract or the concussions, or some combination. It's hard to make a case against concussions he suffered playing at least a minor role. But if they did, it's still on him, he said.
"It's easy (to try to blame the Mets). But a lot of it was based on my feedback, and my feedback was, I felt OK," Bay said. "If anyone's at fault here, it'd probably be me. One hundred times I said I felt fine."
He felt fine, he said, until he didn't. And so, days after slamming his head into a chain-link fence at Dodgers Stadium, he finally sat.
"I always felt if I could play through whatever -- a nick, a bump, a bruise -- I would. And if I couldn't, I wouldn't," he said. "I don't think that's heroic or noteworthy."
Knowing what he knows now, he might not have rushed back to the field after the first concussion. He might have rested, and waited. By the time he incurred a second concussion, the protocol had changed. He rested a bit, and felt better.
He still wasn't necessarily hitting any better.
It's difficult to point to New York or the pressure for his issues, because he had thrived in Boston and excelled in the playoffs before moving to the Big Apple. It's hard to know if it could be the contract. He isn't sure.
"Maybe it's just the human element," he offered. "It's not robots playing this game."
Had he known what it was, perhaps he would have been more successful fixing it. As it was, he tried everything. He adjusted, then adjusted back. He was all over the map.
CitiField was a contributing factor, though he won't say it. When the Mets signed him, they had a spray chart from the year before at Fenway, suggesting he'd hit plenty of homers in his new Mets home park.
It wasn't to be. So the pull hitter tried different things. None of them worked.
"I kind of lost sight of what got me there," Bay said, "Basically, I got too far behind the eight ball. It's not for lack of trying. But I couldn't catch up."
Whatever it was, the Mets couldn't bring him back for more. They did right by him by making a deal to let him go.
It's been a nice start in the right place. Bay lives in Seattle, about 20 minutes from the park. They've moved the fences in, so perhaps there won't be a CitiField repeat.
But a couple spring home runs, with one Friday coming against journeyman Rangers pitcher Neal Cotts, isn't going to lead to Bay considering himself cured.
"I've still got a lot of work to do," he said.
But for the first time in a long time, it looks like he's on the right track. It may gall Mets fans, especially when they consider that also in the Mariners clubhouse is Oliver Perez, who reinvented himself as a viable lefty reliever after failing miserably in Queens following his own $36 million, three-year Mets contract.
Bay's early success may annoy some Mets fans. But not the real fans, not those who've been paying attention, who saw how he played so hard, and tried so hard to produce for the Mets. And certainly, it’s not about to bother the fellow who wrote all those Mets checks to him. He remains a fan.
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