1:34 pm Dec. 7, 2012
When the New York Mets agreed to pay Jason Bay the $21 million left on his contract not to play for them, it was hard to imagine he'd earn much more from another team to actually play for them.
After all, Bay had hit .165 in 2012, the third-worst batting average for any outfielder with at least 200 plate appearances since 1980. Nor had he made it up with much power, with just 10 extra-base hits in those 215 trips to the plate.
And Bay's defense had never been his strength; his bat was what earned him that four-year, $66 million contract from the Mets in December 2009.
But the Seattle Mariners, among several teams, won Bay's services, agreeing to a one-year, guaranteed major league contract that will pay him more than $1 million if he remains on the team all year, and at least $500,000 guaranteed.
In essence, Seattle and the other Bay suitors, Cleveland among them, were betting that there's nothing wrong with Bay a change of scenery couldn't fix. And there are some recent examples to support the idea.
Bay's O.P.S.+ of 47 is actually 17th among all outfielders with at least 200 plate appearances since 1980. Among those who fared worse is Andruw Jones, who put up a 35 for the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers. He headed to the Texas Rangers in 2009, and rebounded to 100, a league average hitter again. Jermaine Dye sandwiched a 38 for the 2003 Oakland Athletics between seasons at 110 and 105. And Tyler Colvin followed up a 38 for the 2011 Chicago Cubs with a 112 for the 2012 Colorado Rockies.
Bay, it must be pointed out, turned 34 in September, older than all three of those players at the time of their rebound. In fact, he was older in 2012 than any of the 16 players who put up worse O.P.S.+ numbers in the outfield; generally, players Bay's age who falter so badly don't get nearly as much playing time to turn things around. But the Mets owed him a ton of money, and weren't going anywhere, so seeing if he could provide them with any value made sense.
So, however, did cutting bait, especially since they managed to defer $10 million of what was owed Bay in 2013 to future seasons, a boon to either ownership's struggling bottom line, or the team's 2013 roster.
In Seattle, Bay will attempt to resurrect his career, but he won't even be the most improbable ex-Met to do so. Oliver Perez, last seen in the major leagues back in 2010 walking better than eight per nine innings and throwing a mid-80s fastball, was dominant for the 2012 Mariners out of the bullpen, with a 2.12 E.R.A. and a mid-90s fastball most assumed was gone forever.
Accordingly, the Mariners may simply have seen just how fixable Perez turned out to be, and took a chance that Bay's problems had more to do with a Mets organization than with Bay himself.