COMMENTARY | The New York Mets haven't had great luck when it comes to signing free agents.
Bobby Bonilla's five-year contract worth $29 million back in December of 1991 ended up not working out for either side. Giving Kazuo Matsui $20 million back in 2003 was a huge blunder. The same can be said for paying Luis Castillo $25 million for four years and Oliver Perez $36 million for three years. Those contracts crippled the organization.
So where does Jason Bay's contract rank among the worst signings in franchise history? Prior to the 2010 season, the Mets gave Bay a four-year contract worth $66 million. You'd be hard pressed to find a player who got paid so much and produced so little.
On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the Mets announced they reached an agreement with Bay to terminate the final year of his deal, a move that makes the player a free agent and gives the team the chance to spread out payments of the $21 million they still owe him.
Prior to joining the Mets, Bay had six productive seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. In 200 games with Boston, Bay hit 45 home runs and drove in 156 runs. In three years in New York, he batted .234 with 26 homers and 124 RBIs. In 2012, he played in just 70 games due to injuries and lack of production. Bay hit .165 with eight homers and 20 RBIs this past season.
As a person, Bay was a good fit. Everyone in the organization praised his work ethic. Bay literally ran into walls -- and suffered concussions as a result -- to help his team win. You can question his bat, but not his heart. As a player, Bay was a disaster. He spent a lot of time on the disabled list and when he was in the lineup, he couldn't buy a hit.
What happened to Bay is a great mystery. Here's a guy who had six big-time seasons through 2009, establishing himself as one of the better hitters in the league. Was it New York? Maybe, but then again, he performed well in Boston. Was it Citi Field's pitcher-friendly dimensions that did him in? It's possible, but I can't believe a guy that talented could be so fragile. Maybe it was just a matter of not being able to live up to the contract. It's happened to plenty of athletes before.
Here's the irony: The Mets are frequently criticized -- mostly by their own fan base -- for not spending more money. But when you spend money on high-priced free agents, there's risk involved. Bay wasn't thought of as a risk. He was a player in his prime coming off an All-Star season in one of baseball's most pressure-packed cities. The signing ended up being a bad one, but not because Bay didn't try and not because the Mets made a mistake signing him. At the time, they needed a right-handed slugger. The organization did what it needed to do. It just didn't work out. But the people who criticize the signing are the same folks who are now whining about the Mets not spending any money. You can't have it both ways.
Through it all, there was some talk that Bay would return in 2013 and be given another chance to be the Mets' left fielder. In my eyes, he was so bad that he became easy to root for, so I would have embraced giving him one last chance. But emotion aside, parting ways is best for both sides.
Isn't it just the Mets' luck that Bay would come here and be a bust? Nothing seems to be going right for the organization these days. Would anyone be shocked if Bay had a productive season for another team in 2013? I can't think of a more hapless franchise.
Maybe the New York Mets and Jason Bay were a good match after all.
Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.