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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

November 7, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Jason Bay could be good reclamation project for the Mariners

bay.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

The news broke earlier today that Jason Bay and the Mets have parted ways after a disastrous three-year stint in New York. Bay signed a four-year, $66-million contract with the Mets before the 2010 season, and still was owed $21 million — $16 million in 2013, a $3 million buyout of a 2014 option, and $2 million in signing bonus. According to reports, he’s going to get all of it, with some of the money being deferred. That’s how motivated the Mets were to rid themselves of Bay.

Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Bay said in a statment that he still wants to play, and believes he can play again at a high level. That obviously remains to be seen. Beset by injuries — particularly two concussions — Bay hasn’t come close to approaching the production that made him a three-time All-Star with Pittsburgh and Boston. In 2009, Bay led all American League outfielders with a .537 slugging percentage, and hit 30 or more homers in five of the previous six years. But he regressed considerably with the Mets, hitting just 26 homers in 1,125 plate appearances. By last year, Bay was among the worst position players in the majors, hitting just .165/.237/.299 in 70 games.

Not a great recent resume. But it seems to me that he is a guy the Mariners could, and should, take a virtually risk-free flyer on. Before I hear the scoffing and scorn, let me stress that I don’t view Bay as any sort of sure-fire answer to their hitting woes, nor should his potential aquisition stop them from making any other move toward addressing their dire need for offense. If Bay returns to form, it would be a bonus, but certainly not something they could count on.

That said, there’s some upside here without much risk. With him getting paid fully by the Mets, I can’t imagine Bay will be looking for much money at all — a very low base with some incentives. He’s just looking for a spot to prove himself again, and I would bet Seattle is high, if not tops, on his list. He grew up in British Columbia, played legion ball extensively in Idaho and Washington, attended Gonzaga and now lives in Kirkland. Sounds like a guy who would be a natural to try to resurrect his career in Seattle. In spring training of 2010, he told me of his affinity for Seattle and the Mariners. Remember, there was a lot of speculation the Mariners would make a play for Bay, and they did have talks, but they didn’t get too far.

“The Mariners would have been a natural fit,” Bay told me at the time. “They had said they were interested, and they had a few other moves to make first. Ultimately, nothing ever materialized.

“Seattle was kind of there the whole time, but never really anything super formal. It was always, ‘Hey, keep us in mind,’ but nothing formal. There was some mutual interest, but once the Mets came heavy, we got it done in two days.”

For all we know, Bay may be done as an impact player, or done period. But he’s still relatively young, and no one knows how much effect the concussions had on his play. Justin Morneau, a fellow Canadian, is an example of someone who has regained much of his form after battling similar issues. Why not find out if Bay can find a comfort zone in Seattle, away from the pressure of living up to a big contract in New York, and further removed from his health issues? Maybe he could forge a role for himself a part-time player, with the ability to spot-start in the outfield or DH and provide a right-handed bench option for Eric Wedge.

Really, there’s nothing to lose.

Here’s Bay’s statement:

“I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level. But after serious consideration, both sides agree that we would benefit from a fresh start,” said Bay in a statement. “I’m grateful we were able to reach an agreement to allow that to happen. I’m excited to keep playing and have no intention of just walking away. I enjoyed my time in New York. I have no regrets in signing with the Mets, other than that I wasn’t able to play to the level that the team, the fans and I all expected and that we weren’t able to win more games. I move on with nothing but an appreciation for the organization and its fans and best wishes to all my teammates there.”

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