About season ticket renewals and Jason Bay

After a week where the Mets generally made little news at the Winter Meetings, to the degree that signing minor leaguer Mike Hessman actually became a notable Mets headline, Omar Minaya and company finally made a headline on the last day of the meetings when it was reported that the Mets had made an offer for free agent outfielder Jason Bay.  This being the Mets, where no move they make can be taken at face-value, it was immediately speculated by Joel Sherman and Craig Calcaterra, among others, that the Mets had made Bay an offer primarily because of lagging season ticket renewals, and a lack of buzz in general for a Mets team that, so far, had only signed a slew of backup catchers and no-skill utility players.

I would like to think that this team is smarter than to think that signing Jason Bay alone would reinvigorate ticket sales, but with this organization, it is probably not a good idea to assume anything.  That being said, there has been a lot of talk as to why season ticket holders have been slow to renew, and I really don’t think it’s that hard to figure out.  There are two primary reasons I’d say season ticket holders have been slow to renew:

  1. Two years ago, the team closed down Shea Stadium.  That meant the last home opener in the history of Shea would be played that season, the last Mets/Yankees game at Shea, and the big one, the last game ever played at Shea.  A lot of new season ticket holders bought tickets that year (and a lot of ticket brokers, for that matter) to make sure they hit the big games, and to ensure new tickets at Citi Field, which has a smaller capacity than Shea, with many fans probably assuming they could unload tickets in the secondary ticket market like StubHub and not take a bath on season tickets.  Remember during all of those mid-summer 2008 Mets home games where Gary, Keith, and Ron would openly scoff at the announced attendance vs. actual fans in the park?  After the team stunk, though, they took a bath on the tickets, and with the novelty of Citi Field having worn off for some fans ten minutes after it opened, many fans didn’t renew.
  2. The team stunk, and season ticket holders didn’t want to sit through another terrible team.

The second explanation is simpler, of course, so we’ll deal with that one.  Besides, I feel like most of the fans in the first example were unlikely to renew anyway.  It’s probably worth investigating to see if the close of an old stadium/opening of a new stadium leads to artificially higher season ticket increases for those two seasons before dropping back down to the old levels after the “newness” of the stadium wears off (provided the team performs at roughly the same level or worse over those seasons), but since most front offices would fiercely protect that information, it’s probably difficult to ascertain.

All of that aside, let’s concentrate on the lousy team.   Jason Bay is at worst the second best bat available in free agency this year. Keith Law from ESPN.com ranks him as the best pure hitter in this free agency class (Insider required), and second best player overall.  The reviews on Bay’s defense are a little less kind, ranging from below average to the fifth worst defender in baseball over the past 3 seasons.   Either way, we’re not getting Endy Chavez out there in left field.

Would adding Bay improve the team?  Probably short-term for sure, although he still has that weird, BABIP-inspired fluke 2007 season.   Long-term might be a bit more of a question mark*. I think there is little question that Matt Holliday would be a better pickup for the Mets, not only because he plays a better defensive left field, but because he’s a little bit younger as well.  But adding Bay would be a nice consolation prize, as it’s unlikely any other free agent available would be capable of matching his production, even if the contract would likely become an albatross by seasons 4 and 5.  Adding Bay would also rate as a welcome departure from the Mets’ unfortunate history of corner outfielders that dates back to the Steve Phillips era (anybody remember the likes of Roger Cedeno and Timo Perez manning left and right field?).

* – Can you imagine a 2012 season with ~$20 million due to Bay, $24 million due to Santana, $17.5 million due to Frankie, and $15.25 million for Wright, plus bringing back Reyes, Beltran, etc?  Just for those four players, we’d be talking about $76.75 million, and only Wright would be in his 20’s.  Yikes.

The thing is, nobody is sure how much the team will improve from adding Jason Bay or John Lackey or whomever.  In the case of some players, like Bengie Molina, they seem likely to add players who will make the team worse.  While Bay is a good enough player, nobody will feel the need to drop everything and order Mets tickets simply because he’s on the Mets; he just doesn’t have that kind of marquee value (not that anybody available in free agency does, including Holliday).  Not that this makes signing Bay a bad move; if anything, the Mets have plenty of marquee talent on the team like Wright, Reyes, Santana, and Beltran.  But they need to realize, and I think they do realize, that signing a free agent, even a good one like Bay, will not in and of itself spike ticket sales.  I’d like to think they know that.

No, the way to boost season ticket sales is to put a better team on the field.  Adding Bay will do that, at least in their immediate future.  Yet it’s impossible to figure how good this team is going to be in December with so much work still left to be done.  There’s still no starting catcher on the roster, nor is there a legitimate starting first baseman, and Angel Pagan is a little bit lacking as an everyday left fielder, even if he did perform well last year and would be a better choice to start in right over Frenchy.  The rotation also remains paper-thin as well, and despite last year’s improvement, nobody should feel particularly safe about the 2010 Mets bullpen.

Unfortunately for the Mets, there are no quick fixes to any of these problems available in either free agency or a trade.  Even worse, they have missed out on their one opportunity to make a statement to the fans that things would be better next season.  By allowing Omar Minaya to stick around for one more season, Mets ownership let the fans know that it’s business as usual with this team.  Minaya has had plenty of opportunities to prove he knows how to build a good team, and in every year except 2006, he has failed.  Removing Minaya from office was the one way the Mets could have energized their base heading into the offseason, showed accountability for all that has gone wrong since Minaya has been in charge, and showed a commitment to making things better.

Instead, they’re giving Omar one more chance to prove what he’s already proven incapable of achieving, building a strong baseball team around legit superstars Wright, Reyes, Beltran, and Santana.  And the Wilpons wonder why nobody wants to invest season ticket money on another bad team.

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