Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Will Jason Bay Become Jason Boo At Citi Field?

Last winter, the Mets were actively searching for an outfielder with some pop in his bat. After all, when the team leader in home runs only hit 12, as Daniel Murphy did in 2009, some energy had to be infused so that the team didn't suffer a similar power outage in back-to-back seasons.

With Matt Holliday looking for a longer deal at more dollars per year, the Mets turned their attention to Jason Bay, signing the veteran leftfielder to a four-year, $66 million contract, with a fifth-year option. Unfortunately, Bay's first season in New York was less than spectacular (.259, 6 HR, 47 RBI in 95 games) and he hit a wall in July. Not the proverbial one, but the one in Dodger Stadium, causing a concussion that put an end to his debut season for the Mets.

Fast forward to this week. Jason Bay, now fully recovered from his concussion, was ready to put 2010 behind him and start earning his lucrative paycheck. However, upon feeling discomfort in his ribcage, Bay took himself out of Tuesday's starting lineup and will now start the season on the disabled list, with Lucas Duda replacing him on the roster.

Although Bay's DL stint can be backdated to last Friday, he will not be eligible to play for the Mets until Saturday, April 9 at the earliest. That means he will miss both Opening Day against the Marlins and the home opener one week later.

Mets fans will once again be left without their entire team when the players are formally introduced during the pre-game ceremonies at Citi Field on April 8. However, you can imagine that with the underperforming and oft-injured Bay not in the starting lineup, some fans might not be cheering when No. 44 is introduced next Friday.

After all, Mets fans are a passionate bunch. They will adore you if you play well and vilify you if you don't. Mike Piazza will always be loved by the fans because he played exceptionally well and always gave his best effort. Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez? Not so much. In fact, in recent years, both Castillo and Perez were subjected to boobird droppings from every level of the stadium, even on a normally festive day like Opening Day.

So now that the Gruesome Twosome are gone, fans who feel they've paid for the right to boo have no one to unleash their vitriol on. Unfortunately, that might not bode well for Jason Bay.

Bay is a solid player who gives his all on the field. If he didn't, he would have shied away from the Dodger Stadium wall last July instead of introducing his coconut to it. But when a player earns top dollar like Bay is, fans expect that player to produce the numbers that go with that salary.

Jason Bay's career in New York can follow one of two paths.

  • Path 1: He can be like Carlos Beltran and have a subpar first year which included a shot to the head (as Beltran did when he played patty-cake with Mike Cameron's noggin in 2005) and then recover to have three outstanding years.

  • Path 2: He can be like George Foster and have a putrid first year, recover some of his power in his second year, but underachieve in the other offensive categories before being run out of town prior to his contract expiring.

(For those too young to remember or old enough to want to forget, George Foster signed a five-year deal with the Mets to become their leftfielder after being traded from Cincinnati to New York in 1982. In the six years prior to the trade (1976-1981), Foster was one of the premier sluggers in the major leagues, averaging 33 HR and 112 RBI per season, to go with a .297 batting average. However, in his first season with the Mets, Foster batted .247 with 13 HR and 70 RBI. He did recover to hit 28 HR in 1983, but lowered his batting average to .241. He was released by the Mets in 1986.)

The great Yogi Berra once said "when you come to the fork in the road, take it". Jason Bay has reached that fork in the road. Will he go left and be confronted with the Foster Dead End or will he make a right towards Beltran Drive? His success or failure (and whether he becomes the next target of the Citi Field boobirds) as a Met might ultimately depend on which direction he chooses.

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