The New York Mets signed outfielder Jason Bay to a four-year, $66 million deal before the 2010 season. In six full seasons prior to his Mets tenure, Bay averaged a .280/.375/.519 line with 30 homeruns, 99 RBI, 94 runs-scored, and 10 stolen-bases. Without a doubt, Jason Bay was a superstar. But now, after disappointing last season (.259/.347/.402 line with 6 homeruns, 47 RBI, 48 runs-scored, and 10 stolen-bases in 401 plate appearances), Bay has officially hit rock bottom in 2011.
The former slugger has posted just a .207/.307/.279 line with 2 homeruns, 10 RBI, 20 runs-scored, and 4 stolen-bases in 164 plate appearances so-far this season. As much as fans would like Bay to return to his hitting ways, his premature and steep decline conjures painful memories of another supposed Mets star–Carlos Baerga.
The 1995 Cleveland Indians won 100 games during the regular season, and were defeated by the Atlanta Braves in a very exciting six-game World Series. Their lineup was loaded with stud hitters like Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Albert Belle–but don’t forget about Carlos Baerga either. In fact, the Indians transformation from perennial loser to top-seed contender was pretty contingent on the offense they received from the middle infielder hailing from Puerto Rico.
From 1992 to 1995, Carlos Baerga posted an impressive .315/.350/.476 line with 75 homeruns, 389 RBI, 365 runs-scored, and 44 stolen-bases for the Indians. In addition, “Los” earned two Silver Slugger awards, three All-Star appearances, and two top-11 MVP finishes during that span too. Considering Baerga had achieved all of these offensive accolades before age 27, it made him a true rarity at his position, and of course, a superb trade chip. In 1996, the Cleveland Indians did just that. Baerga was dealt to the New York Mets with Alvaro Espinoza in exchange for Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino.
Since Baerga was seemingly in the prime of his career, the trade was deemed an instant “win” for the Mets. However, his dismal .267/.302/.396 line in 1996 for the Indians before the trade should have raised some red flags amongst Mets management. Predictably, things only worsened for Baerga while in orange and blue. The former star contributed a .193/.253/.301 line in 91 plate appearances in 1996 for the Mets, and just a .273/.307/.379 line between 1997 and 1998. As a Met, Carlos Baerga owned a combined .267/.302/.373 line with 18 homeruns, 116 RBI, 104 runs-scored, and 2 stolen-bases in three horrible seasons. Not only had the Mets traded a future Hall-of-Famer in Jeff Kent for Baerga’s services, but Baerga’s demise became a symbol of the franchise’s mid-1990’s failures.
And now, Mets fans are again faced with a Baerga-esq situation. While Baerga, even in his heyday, never quite had the on-base skills Jason Bay had, their shared inability to merely hit the ball as Mets is eerily similar. Using “Citi Field” as an excuse for Bay’s power drought is unconvincing, as balls that could have once been homeruns should technically now be doubles–something that hasn’t translated. Also, unlike the Mets of the mid-1990’s, the current roster does have other, more dependable hitters (when healthy) like Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Ike Davis, and Angel Pagan–so Bay doesn’t exactly lack protection. Barring a miraculous cure to his swing, Jason Bay will most certainly, and unfortunately become the new Carlos Baerga in most Mets fan’s minds.