Jason Bay and the Mets: Fact and Fiction

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Like a marriage of convenience, the Mets and Jason Bay wound up together before the 2010 season because the Mets were desperate to make a splash in free agency and needed a bat and Bay had nowhere else to go. They had something akin to a prenuptial agreement in terms of a 4-year contract. Since it went badly from both sides, they mutually ended their relationship yesterday as the sides agreed to an early termination of the contract. Bay will collect his full salary of $21 million and the Mets will get some relief due to deferments. Bay will be a free agent.

Of course, upon this news, the “experts” on social media who “predicted” Bay’s disastrous tenure with the Mets popped out of the woodwork and sought to bolster their credibility by referencing that which they “knew” would happen.

They didn’t predict anything. Let’s look at the implications at the time of the signing and the reality of Bay’s time with the Mets to see—factually—what went wrong and why.

The Mets overpaid for a flawed player with injury questions

I was onboard with the Bay signing. Having put up consistent power numbers in a bad hitters’ ballpark with the Pirates, handling the pressure and having an MVP caliber season and a half with the Red Sox, and being a well-liked individual made Bay a reasonable signing for the Mets. Much has been made of the Red Sox decision to let Bay leave after his 2009 season in which he had 36 homers and a .921 OPS and won a Silver Slugger. These power numbers were not a byproduct of playing in Fenway Park either because his home/road splits were relatively even with more homers on the road than he had at home. Bay’s health was said to be in question with the Red Sox doing what the Red Sox do and ripping a loyal player as he’s heading out the door. “His knees were bad; his shoulders were bad; and he was a poor outfielder.”

At least that’s what the Red Sox leaked. In its aftermath, Peter Gammons discussed the Bay situation on a radio show. You can read the transcript here and never once was his production said to be a worry. They didn’t avoid him due to an expected statistical decline; they didn’t sign him because they didn’t think he’d stay healthy. With the Mets, he spent substantial time on the disabled list, but it wasn’t because of his knees or shoulder—he kept running into walls and banging his head. He played the outfield well and was a good baserunner. He just stopped hitting and walking.

Health-wise, Bay had played in at least 145 games from 2005 through 2009. Injuries were not an issue until he got to the Mets and the injuries that the Red Sox were supposedly concerned about were non-factors in Bay’s stints on the disabled list with the Mets.

Options at the time and the Mets situation

The other big name outfielder on the market was Matt Holliday. Holliday has been a great offensive player with the Cardinals and received three more guaranteed years from the Cardinals with $55 million more in guaranteed money. He’s a hideous outfielder and was not going to the Mets unless they blew away that contract, which they were not going to do. At that time, the Mets were still perceived as contenders and their GM Omar Minaya knew that he was on his last chance in the job. He did something desperate that wound up being a mistake, but was it “predicted”? Maybe some thought Bay would struggle in the latter years, but no one—no one!!!—could have expected his dreadful three years as a Met in the way it happened.

Questionable assertions of predictably declining skill sets

More nonsense.

I was once in the camp of comparing players to one another based on factors that bypassed the individual and it is occasionally applicable, but the Yu Darvish debate changed my mind. Many were implying that they weren’t going to pursue Darvish because of the failure of another highly promoted Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka. But think about how ridiculous that is. It’s like saying a player with first round potential from North Carolina is automatically excluded because Brien Taylor was from North Carolina, got hurt and was a bust for the Yankees. It makes no sense.

If a player was a PED creation, then it was a predictable fall. Bay has never been implicated with PEDs, although anything is possible. Bay was a 22nd round draft choice of the Expos in 2000 who suddenly blossomed. He bounced from the Expos organization to the Mets to the Padres to the Pirates before getting a big league opportunity at age 25. Was there something we don’t know that accounted for his burst? Maybe. Unless there’s a PED revelation, Bay will be saddled with his career coming undone on its own merits or lack thereof.

Bay was a player who hit home runs and walked. There are reasons a slugger accomplishes this. First, he has to have a good command of the strike zone. Second, the league has to realize he has a good command of the strike zone and know that he’s not going to chase pitches. Third, he has to hit the ball out of the park making it necessary for the pitcher to be careful with him for fear of making a mistake and giving up a home run, leading to more walks.

With the Mets, once Bay displayed that he couldn’t catch up to a good fastball, pitchers challenged him. His numbers plummeted. This is not a new phenomenon with power hitters whose skills erode. Some, like Raul Ibanez, are able to cheat on fastballs by starting their swings earlier and still produce. Others, like Bay, are unable to adapt. This was a roll of the dice to see if he’d maintain some semblance of usefulness to the Mets in the last two years of his deal and he didn’t. Would it be reasonable to look at his numbers and suggest that he’d drop from 30 homers to 18; in RBI from 120 to 85; and slow down in the field? Yes. Would it be reasonable to think he’d hit .165? No. It’s idiotic second guessing.

The lesson

Given the lack of bat speed and inability to hit anything other than mediocre pitching if everything is working right, I wouldn’t expect much from Bay no matter where he signs. Perhaps if he goes to a good hitters park where he can platoon, that club (the Red Sox, Rangers, Orioles) will get something from Bay, but his days as an All-Star and MVP candidate are over. In today’s game, players lose it in their mid-30s. The days of a player getting exponentially better from the ages of 35-40 ended with drug testing. We’ll see more of this unless teams learn not to overpay for players in those years and it won’t be predicted, it will be inherent.

There is no lesson other than making sure that the baseball people are secure enough in their jobs that they don’t do desperate things to save themselves like the Mets and Minaya did with Bay; making sure that players who don’t want to be in a certain location are lured by an amount of money too large to refuse, especially when they have no other options. Like most shotgun weddings, it went badly. It ended prematurely and expensively to the club and to Bay’s reputation. Don’t make it anything more than that.

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An Impressive Display From Bryce Harper

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There’s a perception that because I try to pull the cover off the exaggerations in the legend of Bryce Harper that I want him to fail and enter the netherworld of “can’t miss” first overall picks who missed.

That list is long and, in some cases, quite sad.

Some were ruined by self-inflicted and team abuse: David Clyde.

Others got injured in off-field mishaps: Brien Taylor.

Many were all tools, no substance: Matt Anderson; Shawn Abner.

A few were taken for ancillary reasons: Steve Chilcott; Matt Bush.

I don’t want Harper to fail. But I don’t want to hear these ridiculous stories about his exploits to put him in the superhuman category at 19-years-old. The desperation to make him something he’s not can lay the foundation for a stalled or ruined career.

In his weeklong tenure in the big leagues, Harper has shown his massive talents with a deadly strong and accurate throwing arm; plate discipline; skillful defense at a position—leftfield—he’s rarely played; plus speed and aggressiveness. He’s also shown teenage arrogance (flipping off his helmet on his first big league hit) and stupidity (playing softball in a Washington DC park).

But last night, when Phillies’ pitcher Cole Hamels drilled him in the back with a fastball, Harper was cool and ruthless.

Hamels inexplicably said he was throwing at Harper—ESPN Story.

Of course he was throwing at him, but only an idiot says so after the fact. Now he’s going get suspended. Deservedly so.

Jordan Zimmerman retaliated by hitting Hamels, but the true retaliation came from Harper in the immediate aftermath of his plunking.

In what was quite possibly the most impressive thing that I’ve seen Harper do—more impressive, in fact, than the hitting, fielding, running and throwing—was a display of maturity that precludes the helmet-flip and softball participation.

After reaching first on the 2-out HBP, Harper went to third on a Jayson Werth single; Hamels tried to pick Werth off and with a quickness of thinking, anticipation and baseball instincts unheard of in veterans let alone a 19-year-old, Harper didn’t hesitate in taking off for home. He stole it relatively easily.

In addition to that, given Harper’s reputation, one would’ve expected him to glare at Hamels or mutter to himself; one would’ve expected him to flaunt his steal of home and victory in the war of machismo.

But he did none of the above.

He did his job and his silence and professionalism was explosive in its impact. The HBP was an attempt to get a rise out of the rookie and he answered by not answering in the way Hamels wanted. He answered on the field. It was a message to the rest of the league that he’s going to shove it to those who push him and do it without the histrionics that made Harper a YouTube sensation for his attitude, tantrums and ejections.

Hamels welcomed him to the big leagues.

Harper followed it up by proving he belongs.

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The Truth About the Drafts—NFL and MLB

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New York football Giants’ GM Jerry Reese was a guest with Mike Francesa yesterday to discuss his team’s haul in the NFL draft a week ago.

You can listen to the interview here.

Reese has won two Super Bowls and is the top football man of one of the most organized and serious front offices in the profession. During the interview, when discussing the media’s and public’s analysis of players and the draft, Reese said something very simple, highly intelligent and laser precise enough to stick a pin in the enormous and bloated egos of those who think they’re more qualified to assess, analyze, advise and criticize the players that are taken in any draft than those who are making the picks.

Well, I just think that there’s so many draft shows and people talk about draft picks and people don’t do it professionally for a job. We have guys who do it for a living. And the guys who don’t go to all the ballgames and scout them like we do here, I think there can be some misinformation.

He was speaking from his position running the Giants, but it applies to all drafts. My focus is on the NFL draft and the MLB draft.

The NFL draft has long been an extravaganza with a phalanx of armchair experts anointed credibility in a circular exercise without end. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines—with no responsibility—and say anything. Occasionally you’ll be right; occasionally you’ll be wrong; but without a career or job on the line, what difference does it make? All that’s necessary are a forum, the buzzwords and an audience.

I say this having great admiration for what a true NFL draftnik like Mel Kiper Jr. has been able to do in creating a niche for himself where there wasn’t one before. He worked very hard to get where he is and has made a lot of money doing what he loves.

That said, is anyone going to notice if Kiper says that he’d choose X player over Y player and Y player turns into a star? Probably. But is he going to lose his job? No.

Because the mandate of the draft analysts on ESPN, NFL Network, MLB and other outlets is to stimulate debate, disagree and draw attention to what they’re saying, there’s no reason to take it seriously.

If the mock drafts pop up and the repeated changes, “raging debates” and “eureka” discoveries as to why the “experts” are changing their minds isn’t based on any new information, what’s the point? We’re oversaturated with information as it is. It’s designed to attract webhits, ratings, attention and to sell draft guides. From higher ratings come more advertising dollars. If you know this going in and still partake for the theater, fine; if you don’t, then you’re being treated as and acting like a mindless sheep.

I could get my hands on a reputable website with the list of the top 30 potential picks in the NFL and MLB drafts, pick one and formulate a roundabout explanation as to why I did it without actually saying anything and there would be 1000 people saying it’s brilliant and another 1000 saying it’s idiotic.

Jon Gruden was savaged on Twitter for his negativity about drafted players. Said savagery was uttered by people who have no credentials to be critiquing someone like Gruden who is a Super Bowl winning coach, has extensive experience and would have another coaching job almost immediately if he chose to leave the broadcast booth.

Are you more credible than Jon Gruden? Is some guy on Twitter?

With the number of NFL players who were late-bloomers (Rich Gannon); lower round draft choices who found themselves in an advantageous system and circumstances (Joe Montana; Tom Brady); journeyman free agents who wouldn’t give up (Kurt Warner); or foundlings (Victor Cruz), and the number of top 3 pick busts (Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich, Blair Thomas), it’s not a science. Top NFL people are going to hit and miss.

So where does that leave Twitter-guy? Guy with a draft book and a dream? Radio man? Mel Kiper Jr.?

MLB former top picks in the draft are no more of a guarantee of success on the field or intelligence off the field. Just last week, former first overall pick Delmon Young was arrested for a fight outside a New York hotel that was classified as a hate crime because he, in a drunken state, made anti-Semitic references to the people he was fighting with.

In hindsight, Young hasn’t been a player worthy of the top pick in the draft either.

Anointed megastar Bryce Harper was caught in a viral video playing softball in a Washington DC park. What would’ve happened if Harper, trying to impress the people he was playing with, swung too hard and awkwardly and tore his shoulder in a softball game?

The video is below. It’s evidence.

Brien Taylor got into a fight and destroyed his shoulder.

Scouts were split on whether to select Ken Griffey Jr. first overall or a player named Mark Merchant. Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda. James Shields was a 16th round pick. Albert Pujols was a 13th round pick. Jose Bautista was a 20th round journeyman who hopped from one organization to another before getting a chance to play with the Blue Jays—who almost released him.

The Reese quote basically says that if a talking head on TV gets a pick wrong, he’s still going to be a talking head on TV the next year and five years after that. If Jerry Reese gets it wrong, he might survive in his job for a year or two, but five years of mistakes and he’s out of a job and possibly out of football entirely.

It’s their living.

If you’re suggesting that you know more than they do and have on the line what they have on the line, here’s a flash: you don’t.

It’s even worse if you say you do.

Because you don’t. And won’t.

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Yu Darvish and the Yankees

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Despite refusing to show their hand in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, the Yankees must have posted a large bid for the Japanese right-hander.

Here’s why.

They need him.

For the second straight year, Brian Cashman went to the winter meetings looking for pitching and came away empty handed. The Yankees weren’t enamored of C.J. Wilson‘s asking price; Mark Buehrle didn’t appear interested in New York; Trevor Cahill was traded to the Diamondbacks; Billy Beane is asking for a ton to acquire Gio Gonzalez; and Felix Hernandez isn’t on the market.

CC Sabathia was retained with a contract extension; they kept Freddy Garcia and are looking for takers on A.J. Burnett. The young pitchers Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Hector Noesi are not expected to start the season in the rotation. That leaves Sabathia, Garcia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Burnett.

It’s doubtful that Cashman is comfortable with that in the wake of the new look American League that houses the two-time defending American League champions Rangers and the rainmaking Angels. The AL East isn’t a guarantee to have the Wild Card anymore. There’s still the chance that the playoffs expand to an extra team in 2012, but that’s an unknown and the configuration of the playoff structure—a one-game playoff for the Wild Card—is not what any team with a near-$200 million payroll wants to bank on.

If the Blue Jays are—as rumored—one of the teams that put in a bid for Darvish, they’re very dangerous in the changing culture of the division. It’s not just the Red Sox and Yankees with the Rays insinuating themselves into the conversation anymore. The Blue Jays are a serious threat.

He only costs money.

The Yankees are concerned about the luxury tax; the posting bid will not count against the luxury tax. (You can read a concise synopsis of the new CBA here on MLB Trade Rumors.)

Hypothetically, say the winning bid is $50 million and the Yankees or anyone else has to come to a contract agreement with Darvish. Darvish could conceivably stay in Japan if he doesn’t like the offers he receives, but that’s unlikely. If a team wins the bid, they’ll have to sign him and he wants to pitch in the majors. They’ll hammer something out.

Judging by prior posting bid contracts, the contract itself won’t be a huge outlay. The Red Sox got Daisuke Matsuzaka for 6-years and $52 million. If the Yankees can get Darvish for somewhere around $60 million for 5-years, that’s far lower than what they would have had to pay Wilson; cheaper in personnel than what they’d have to surrender in a trade for Gonzalez, Hernandez or any other young arm they might pursue; it won’t count against the luxury tax and there are no compensatory draft picks.

Money is something the Yankees have and it’s a one-cost purchase without any kickers to affect the rest of their payroll.

Darvish is really, really good.

This is a superstar talent in personality and performance. Those who are preaching caution are using the fractured logic that because Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu didn’t work out, Darvish will be the latest in massively hyped, overpriced pitchers from Japan to come to North America and be a bust.

I was ready to make the same argument before looking at Darvish.

Pigeonholing a player based on where he’s coming from is the wrong way to pursue talent.

That stereotype could be applied to anything.

Why sign any free agents if they might become Carl Pavano?

Why draft any immense talent if they might become Brien Taylor?

Why develop pitchers if they might washout in New York like Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy?

Players have to be judged on who they are with a consideration to the history of other pitchers who tried to make the transfer. I tore down Darvish’s mechanics with video and comparisons in this piece; he’s the real deal.

I said at the time that teams with the means have to go after him because he’s going to be that good.

The Yankees are one of those teams and considering the above factors it’s a pretty fair assumption that they put in a bid for Darvish.

A big one.

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