It’s nice to be surprised every once in a while. These days I often think the worst about ownership, so, yes, the dramatic release of Jason Bay today was really something. Our worst nightmare, vanished. It’s a new day. (This move clears the way for Melky in LF, btw, but we’ll deal with that another time.)
I remember the winter of the Bay signing. At that point, as I recall, Mike, you were getting calls from the Mets ticket sales force — they were suddenly being nice to you, for the first time in team history — and that sent a clear signal to you that ownership felt they HAD TO DO SOMETHING BIG to capture the interest of fans. Not that you approved or didn’t approve, just that you clearly said to me, “They are going to sign Bay; they are too afraid to not do something.”
Yes, I remember. It was the off-season following year one at Citifield, so attendance and revenues were good as the team profited from all the people who wanted to see the new stadium. But Madoff had already hit and Citifield was a disaster, so you kind of knew that spending was going to suffer over time, the signals had already started. Based on all the people I know (including myself) who had decided not to renew season tickets after 2009 the Wilpons had to be freaking that winter. It was incredible how many 20 year-plus season ticket holders were bailing. The problem was the owners didn’t understand there was nothing they could do about it, season ticket holders were getting out in droves because Citifield was overpriced and, well, sucks. Prices (and Revenue) were going to have to come down no matter what the team did. But no surprise, the Wilpons did not understand the situation and they hardly altered the laughable ticket prices (which finally began to really move a year later). Instead they signed Bay.
Confession: I was okay with the Bay signing, didn’t foresee the bottom falling out the way it did. Historically, the big problem with the Wilpons — well, there are several — but one big problem is that once we get stuck with a bad contract, they have been unable to cut losses and move forward. Which is why dumping Bay is such a stunning, astonishing move. I didn’t think it was in their DNA. The Wilpons have this long, grim history of non-productive guys like Perez, Castillo, Matsui, and Bay absolutely killing the team long after it’s been clear they needed to go. I don’t care what anyone says, rolling Bay out there had to be DEPRESSING for that team. Just a terrible signal from ownership to the players: nope, we’re not really trying. With free agency, mistakes will happen — but the Wilpons always compounded those mistakes by holding on far too long.
I remember when they wouldn’t dump “Super Joe” McEwing — despite consecutive seasons with an OPS of .538, .601, and .609. They just waited, and waited, until finally they released him during Spring Training of 2005. And this was a guy earning less than a million! (By the way, Dan Szymborski, upon McEwing’s release, posted on the Baseball Think Factory: “Finally, the Mets make up for the Black Friday trades. OK, maybe not, but despite the tears of people that are sad to see Super Joe depart, the Mets are a better team without him, even before considering the Mets invited a million players better than McEwing to camp this year. Sayonara, Clutch Midget.”
This has always been a problem with Fred. He cringes at the thought of ever releasing a player, no matter the consequences. But since Alderson came on board this is the third time the Mets have eaten some serious money (the others being the last years of the Castillo and Perez deals). Fair is fair. As for Bay, he has always been cited as a great guy so I hate to dance on his grave, but it was impossible to see how he could help the Mets anymore and this move allows the team to move on.
It’s ironic, the Mets signed Bay to show their fans they were still serious about fielding a winning team, and now might be showing us the same thing by releasing him.