SEATTLE — The biggest question when it comes to Jason Bay, the former All-Star outfielder turned big-money bust in New York, goes something like this:
What went wrong?
“I’ve answered that question a bazillion times,” said Bay, who recently signed a one-year contract with the Mariners in hopes of reviving his career in Seattle.
Well then, what’s a bazillion and one?
But here’s the thing, Bay isn’t sure what went wrong with the Mets. How he went from being a player who was a three-time All Star, who eclipsed 30 home runs and 100 RBI four times from 2005 to 2009, to being a player the Mets didn’t want to keep around for the final year of a four-year deal he signed before the 2010 season.
“Everybody else has an opinion about it, I don’t per se, but it just didn’t (work out),” Bay said. “It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I got
off to a slow start, then it just kind of felt like swimming upstream the entire time. I don’t shy away from it. It’s part of the job, it’s part of what you do, and owning up to that is absolutely part of it, but it just didn’t work. I can’t put my finger on it. A lot of other people have tried, a lot of people will say this or that, but for me, I just could never get going. I got banged up a little bit — not an excuse, just the reality — that didn’t help, but I don’t think that was the No. 1 reason. I just couldn’t get on track, I couldn’t move forward. I was stuck in one gear and I couldn’t get going.”
Now, the 34-year-old Bay hopes to find another gear, or to be more precise, the old gear that led to so much success early in his career. A native of British Columbia, Bay played his college ball at Gonzaga, and he and his family make the Seattle area their offseason home, so if ever there was a good place for him to right the ship, he believes it is here. And even though Bay has plenty of doubters at this point, he insists he wouldn’t be playing in Seattle or anywhere else if he didn’t believe he could recapture his old form.
“If I didn’t think that, I don’t think I would be here,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here trying to hold on. I feel like I can still do it, and I did do it in New York every now and then, but there was no consistency. If I had gone months without any signs of life, it would have been ‘OK, this isn’t working.’ But all of the sudden it was like, it’s there, we’ve just got to get to a point where we can get it there consistently. Any competitor would still feel that way. Am I the exact same guy I was in 2004, 2005? No, but some percentage of that, a large percentage of that, that’s still pretty good.”
And if Bay somehow manages to return to his All-Star form, or even something remotely resembling it, he would fill a big need for the Mariners both as a right-handed bat with pop and a veteran presence who could help a clubhouse full of young players.
“It’s without a doubt our greatest need,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of a right-handed bat. “Putting those lineups together, (we) are so left-handed heavy. … I don’t know what the ratio was, but that first guy out of the bullpen was left-handed about 90 percent of the time (last season), and there was usually another one coming behind him. So for us to create a little more balance was imperative.”
But as much as the Mariners are hoping Bay can turn his career around, they are hardly betting their season on it. For starters, Bay isn’t getting much money — by Major League Baseball standards, anyway. His contract is reportedly worth $1 million if he makes the big-league roster and $500,000 if he’s sent to the minors or released. And while they wouldn’t get into details, Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik made it clear this team is hoping to add more this offseason. And it wasn’t a coincidence that Bay’s introduction to the local media was an informal gathering in the clubhouse, not a formal press conference.
“We have a lot of discussions going with different angles, and we’ll see where it all ends up,” Zduriencik said. “Right now people are weighing their options and figuring out what’s best for their client and the player. We’re trying to be fairly aggressive to try to do something to bring other opportunities here.”
Does “fairly aggressive” mean a splashy signing like Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, or a trade for a big-name player? That remains to be seen. But until another move happens, the newest Mariner is a former All-Star, hoping that health, a fresh start and a familiar setting are enough to revive a career that took a turn for the worse in New York.
“You kind of wipe the slate clean,” Bay said. “Regardless of where I was going, whether it was here or anywhere else — and I’m glad that I’m here — that was the No. 1 thing I was looking forward to, just starting over. I’ve been swimming upstream for so long and not getting anywhere, that’s basically it, I’m just trying to start fresh.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.