Upon hearing the news on Tuesday from Mike Francesa that the Mets and Jason Bay had reached terms on a contract, I texted a few friends about the news in case they hadn’t heard. One of those friends was occasional Blue & Orange contributor Joe A Dig, who responded with the text, “Oh goody. The solution to none of our problems. Unless maybe he’s secretly a pitcher too.”
This has not been an uncommon reaction to the Bay signing, most of which has been somewhat muted. Joe Janish from MetsToday tweeted something similar after the signing, and perennial nitwit John Harper buries the Mets for not acquiring John Lackey, even though the Red Sox gave Lackey more years and more guaranteed money than the Mets gave Bay, despite both being the same age, despite Lackey’s recent history of injury issues, despite Lackey being a pitcher and thus being more susceptible to injuries anyway, and despite Lackey’s downward trending peripherals.
Anyway, the point of this is not to defend the Bay deal. It seems like a typical Omar Minaya deal, especially if it’s backloaded, in that it will be good in the short-term, potentially disastrous in the long-term, especially with the Mets’ salary commitments in 2012 (Santana at $24m, Bay at ~$19m, Wright’s $15m option, and of course, the bane of this blog’s existance, the Frankie $17.5m vesting option, giving the Mets a whopping $75.5 million in potential salary on the books for three seasons from now). It’s more to discuss this idea that the Mets need to solely concentrate on pitching this offseason, because anybody that watched last year’s team would have to see that there was a lot more wrong with the 2009 Mets than starting pitching.
Last year, the Mets were 25th in the major leagues in runs scored, and 16th in runs allowed. This does not mean to suggest that they were somehow “better” at preventing runs than they were at scoring them, because they were below average in both categories. Plus, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are both scheduled to return in 2010, and hopefully both will be back as close to 100% as possible, which will help both run scoring and run prevention, since both are excellent all-around players. Additionally, the Mets play most of their home games at Citi Field, and while we still don’t have enough evidence to say for certain, early returns are that Citi Field does play like a pitcher’s park, which will make the Mets’ runs scored ledger look worse and their runs allowed ledger look better than their true skill levels.
Still, it’s hard to argue that the Mets needed another good position player. After Wright, Beltran, and Reyes, there is a steep drop in talent present in the lineup. Assuming the Mets eventually sign Bengie Molina (an unfortuante inevitability), the rest of the Mets lineup will likely consist of Molina, Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo, and Jeff Francoeur, and if the Mets hadn’t signed Bay, they likely would have started Angel Pagan in RF. These are simply not players capable of playing competitive baseball. Their deficencies range from an inability to get on base (Molina, Francoeur, Murphy), a lack of power (Castillo, Murphy, Pagan), and poor defensive skills (Castillo). That is too many flaws surrounding the core. I mean, Angel Pagan was clearly the best of these players in 2009, ironic considering he’s the player most likely to become a bench player in 2010, as the Mets set out to prove that Jeff Francoeur’s 956 plate appearances with the Braves from 2008 to 2009 was the sample size fluke, not his 308 Mets plate appearances.
While Bay brings his own defensive inabilities to the team, there’s no doubting the potent combination of power and on-base skills he immediately adds to the Mets lineup. Considering that the Carlos Delgado of 2008 is gone, and likely never coming back, this team is going to need that sort of bat if they are to return to their 2008 levels of production, where they finished the year tied for eighth in baseball in runs scored. He’s not the great all-around player that Beltran, Wright, and Reyes are, or even that Matt Holliday is, but it’s also likely that Bay becomes the best hitter on the team the second his contract is official. Considering the Mets’ unfortunate history at the corner outfield spot dating back to late 90’s, he’s not a terrible player to acquire, especially since the Mets’ focus right now should be to win now, with Beltran’s contract set to expire soon and Wright and Reyes soon to become expensive.
The Mets focus shouldn’t be confined to simply focusing on hitting and pitching. It should be on finding the most efficient way to outscore the competition. Granted, signing Jason Bay doesn’t necessarily achieve that, but neither does simply signing John Lackey. Pitching doesn’t win championships by itself, but putting together the best combination of hitting and pitching together does. Look at the last three World Series champions. The 2009 Yankees finished first in runs scored, 14th in runs allowed, and second in run differential. The 2008 Phillies also weren’t a pure pitching team; they were 5th in runs allowed and tied for 8th with the Mets in runs scored, good for the third best run differential in the majors. The 2007 Red Sox followed a similar path, ranking 4th in runs scored and first in runs allowed to put together the best run differential in baseball. Run prevention is obviously important, but all of these teams could score some runs, too. None finished lower than third in baseball in run differential, and that’s with the randomness of the baseball postseason working against them.
I’m not saying that the Mets don’t need a starting pitcher. While I like Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese more than most, the team obviously can’t go into 2010 and expect John Maine to be healthy enough to last an entire season when recent history shows that he probably can’t, and the team can’t rely on Oliver Perez to be good. But there are still plenty of good starting pitchers available. Ben Sheets is still on the market, as is Joel Piniero, Doug Davis, Jon Garland, and a bunch of other rotation filler guys. Guys like Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, and other starters making way too much money for their current teams are also available for a minimal prospect cost. There are plenty of ways for the Mets to upgrade their pitching, to say nothing of improving their middle infield defense by dumping Castillo for Orlando Hudson or Adam Kennedy, who would make Pelfrey look a whole lot better than he was in 2009.
The Mets can, and likely will, address their run prevention in the upcoming weeks. It remains to be seen if their offense will score enough runs, as even with the addition of Bay, the Mets are likely to have three OBP ciphers at the low end of their lineup in Murphy, Francoeuer, and Molina, which will hurt their ability to score runs. Still, having Bay can only help this team’s run scoring in 2010, and that is an area where the team was lacking in 2010. Even if the team does eventually resign Carlos Delgado, they can’t expect the Delgado of 2008 to return, so adding another bat like Bay’s to the lineup will only benefit the team next year. Adding Bay helps the Mets improve their ability to outscore the competition, at least in the short-term, and for that, the move was a decent one.