It looks as if the career of OF Jason Bay is finally coming to an end. As many would say (particularly fans of the New York Mets), it will probably be three years too late. It is self explanatory to describe the drop in Bay’s production; which saw a six year run with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox where he was a top ten power hitting OF in all of MLB over that span that slammed to a complete halt after he signed a 4 year, $66 million contract with the Mets. But if you look at some of the transactions that have involved Bay, you will see that he was both highly desired and not taking seriously over the series of trades he was involved in.
Bay was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 22nd round of the 2000 draft. What is interesting about Bay is that he was in the Little League World Series at age 11 in 1990. He then got to play on Canada’s Junior Olympic team. He was not highly recruited during high school and played at North Idaho College. It was that point where Bay started setting records, eventually transferring to Gonzaga. He would continue to dominate, but was still not scouted as a high end player with MLB potential. The Expos saw enough to take him in the June draft. The Expos GM…?…. Omar Minaya. (*Cue the typical Mets fans bashing of Minaya* Why not? This is an article about Jason Bay. I would not expect Jason Bay to bring back the greatest memories in the mind of Mets fans.)
Bay would tear up the New York Penn and Midwest Leagues in 2000 and 2001. It was in the Florida State League where he would struggle, playing in Jupiter (A+). Hitting .195 in 38 games dropped his value so much that he was traded at the end of spring training in 2002 to the Mets with Jimmy Serrano for Lou Collier (a guest on the Passed Ball Show, interview can be found at www.johnpielli.com/john-piellis-pbs-interviews.html). Collier’s value to the Expos was that of a utility infielder so it was obvious that Minaya and the Expos did not value Bay very much (at that time). Bay would put up respectable, not dominant numbers for A St Lucie and AA Binghamton. This increased his value enough to be dealt to the San Diego Padres with Josh Reynolds and Bobby M Jones in a deal that would get the Mets RHPs Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook. He hit .309 in his final 23 games in AA Mobile to finish the season at .283, 17, 85.
Bay moved up to AAA for the 2003 season, where he hit 20 HRs and OPSed .951 in 91 games. This increased his trade value to point where he was used as trade bait; this time dealt to the Pirates with Oliver Perez (yes… that Oliver Perez) and Corey Stewart for All Star OF Brian Giles. Bay was having a solid season; he trailed only Pirates AAA OF prospect JJ Davis in slugging percentage (Davis was at .964). Bay had made his MLB debut that season with San Diego and after being traded to the Pirates, he played every day at the big league level. While Pirates fans were pissed at the thought they gave another good player away for nothing, Bay gave them something to think about.
At this point, Bay started to become a player. He would win the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2004 and have consecutive All Star seasons, with 30+ HR and 100+ RBI in 2005 and 2006. A down 2007 saw Bay’s average dip to .247. While Bay had rebounded the next season, he still had not caught up to his 2005 and 2006 seasons. Then he was dealt on July 31st for the second time in his career.
The Red Sox would deal OF Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, getting Bay from the Pirates. The Pirates would get pitcher Bryan Morris and 3B Andy LaRoche from the Dodgers and pitcher Craig Hansen and 1B Brandon Moss from the Red Sox. To put it in perspective how valued (or overvalued) Bay was in this trade, look at it this way. The Pirates traded Bay to the Red Sox and got back Morris, Hansen, LaRoche and Brandon Moss. Though LaRoche and Hansen never panned out, Morris has become a solid reliever for the Pirates and Moss has become a solid everyday player for the Athletics. To get Bay, the Red Sox traded Manny Ramirez, Brandon Moss and Hansen! Obviously the Red Sox got some salary relief by dealing Ramirez to LA, but few saw this deal as a fair one, on paper, for the Red Sox.
Bay would have a solid 2009 season, at least in regards to HR (36) and RBI (119). His OPS was .921, which was the highest it had been since 2006. He had a career high in strikeouts, hit only 29 2Bs and finished with a .267 average entering his free agency season. While he was productive, the Red Sox felt comfortable letting him walk as a free agent.
Remember the discussion about the two free agent outfielders that offseason. I remember hearing all the bitching about the fact that Matt Holliday was getting a 7 year contract to remain with the St Louis Cardinals. While I stayed away from those complaints, I did think Bay could provide some value with the 4 year deal he signed.
It would have been very difficult to expect Bay to be a top MLB OF during the duration of his Mets contract. But, nobody saw his career coming to a crashing halt. It seemed like the turning point was that evening in LA when Bay crashed into the LF fence at Dodgers Stadium. He was never a force in the lineup after that, including an embarrassing 2012 season where he managed to have an OPS of .536. His SLG% alone for the Red Sox in 2009 was .537. It doesn’t get any worse than a .165, 8, 20 in 70 games. Both Bay and Mets fans were mercied after the 2012 season, allowing both the fans and Jason to move on with their respective lives. He would be signed by #6 org, the Seattle Mariners and would hit .204, 11, 20 in 68 games with the M’s before he was released on August 6th. Assuming Bay will no longer play, he finished his career with a .266, 260, .482 split to go along with his 222 HRs.
Similar to anyone else who watched Bay play during his time in NY, I was frustrated that he could never get it together. However, the way he played the game was an example that all should follow. Even at his worst, he ran out every ball hit, played the game with all his heart and never let his offensive woes affect his performance on defense. Maybe he should have hung it up after the 2011 or 2012 season. But nobody leaves two years of owed money on the table and only Gil Meche left money on the table his last year in Kansas City. And he was owed much less than Bay was. Bay’s slow moving coaster has been idling in the station for years now, and if it has come to a final stop, I wish the guy the best. Jason Bay will be forever remembered for being one of the many players who could not cut in NY- he’d be the first to tell you.