This hasn’t been a fun year for Jason Bay. Signed to a four-year, $66 million contract over the winter, the 31-year-old outfielder is batting a modest .260 with six homers and 47 RBI. This time last year, he had 20 homers and 72 RBI. The Mets just haven’t gotten what they paid for.
After going 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts during the recent three-game sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks, the struggling Bay was dropped to the seventh spot in the order by manager Jerry Manuel on Friday night. Prior to Friday’s game, Bay had only started a game in the No. 7 spot seven times in his career.
While it is notable the Mets broke a three-game losing streak Friday, banging out more than four runs for the first time since July 5, it was Bay that managed to steal the show. He started by making a running catch on a full-sprint in the bottom of the second inning, crashing face-first into the chain link fence in left field. I wish I had a screengrab for you, but the link to this video should suffice.
Perhaps the collision jarred something loose, because Bay finally remembered how to hit. In the eighth, he smacked a three-run double to right-center field, extending the Mets’ lead to the eventual winning score of 6-1. It was Bay’s first RBI since July 5 and his first extra-base hit since July 2.
As baseball fans, we often can’t help but to look at each season as a narrative. Or we at least long for one, trying to identify individual moments that turn things around. I’m not saying Bay is going to go on a tear and suddenly be the run producer the Mets thought they signed this winter, but would you be surprised if he did?
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.