Bay seeks consistency in comfort of Seattle home
Club hopes veteran outfielder delivers power boost to lineup
SEATTLE -- When Jason Bay sat down at dinner with Jack Zduriencik several weeks ago, the Mariners general manager didn't talk about what had gone wrong the last couple years. He spoke instead of what could be possible going forward for the three-time All-Star.
And for Bay, who felt stuck in neutral for three seasons with the Mets, that was a welcome approach. Bay is eager for a fresh start and he'll get that in Seattle, about 10 miles from his offseason home in Kirkland, Wash., with a team that needs him just as much as he needs it.
"I told Jack when I came here, this wasn't a platform spot for me," Bay said Monday when meeting the media at Safeco Field for the first time since signing a one-year deal with the Mariners. "I'm not picking a spot to try to boost value for next year. This is somewhere where I feel like I can still play, there's a good fit for me here and I'm looking forward to it."
The Mariners need a veteran right-handed hitter with some middle-of-the-order presence. Whether Bay can still be that guy after three seasons of struggles in New York is a big question mark, but one Zduriencik is willing to find out the answer to given the low-risk, $1 million deal the 34-year-old agreed to following his release from the Mets with $21 million still owed on his prior contract.
"He's had a few struggles the last few years, no question," said Zduriencik. "There's been some injuries attached to that, other factors, who knows what it is. But when you look at a comfortable environment, he lives here, he's from the Northwest, went to college here, all the arrows point to this as a good place for him to have a bounceback year. This just feels right."
Bay, 34, was one of the most consistent sluggers in baseball from 2004-09 with the Pirates and Red Sox, averaging 29 home runs and 99 RBIs over a six-year span. But the wheels came off after he signed a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets in 2010.
Some have blamed concussion problems and a neck injury after a tough collision with the wall at Dodger Stadium cost him the final two months of the 2010 season. Another concussion put him back on the disabled list last year for a time. But he refuses to blame that, other than saying the games missed might have affected him, and says he's 100 percent healthy now.
So what did go wrong with the Mets?
"I've answered that question a bazillion times," he said. "Everybody else has an opinion about it. I don't, per se. It wasn't for lack of trying. I got off to a slow start and then it felt like I was swimming upstream the entire time. It's something I don't shy away from. It's part of the job. It's part of what you do. Owning up to that is absolutely part of it. But it just didn't work.
"I can't put my finger on it. People will say this or that, but for me, I could just never get going. I got banged up a little bit, not an excuse, just reality, and that didn't help. But I don't think that was the No. 1 reason. I just couldn't get on track and move forward. I was just stuck in one gear."
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said Bay potentially fits his team's biggest need, a right-handed power bat, and he's eager to see how Bay looks this spring.
"We've seen time and again, a change in scenery more times than not is a good thing," Wedge said. "Sometimes you get behind the eight ball and it's just tough to get out from underneath it. I've talked to [former Red Sox manager Terry] Francona and [Mets manager] Terry Collins and they just can't say enough about the guy. I'm excited to have him here."
Bay said he's been told he'll compete for the left-field job and his playing situation obviously will be dictated by how he performs. He's realistic about his situation, but optimistic at the same time. And, yeah, he still feels like he can be the player he was before things went south with the Mets.
"If I didn't think that, I wouldn't be here," he said. "I wouldn't be here trying to hold on for one last year. I feel like I can still do it. And I did do it in New York every now and then, there was just no consistency. If I'd gone months without any sign of life, it would have been, 'OK, this isn't working.' But all the sudden, bam, it was there. We just have to get it there consistently.
"I think any competitor would feel that way. Am I the exact same guy I was in 2004 and 2005? Probably not. But I feel at some capacity, some percentage of that, a large percentage of that, is still pretty good."
If Bay finds a role with the Mariners, he could provide more than just a right-handed bat. Wedge felt the club was missing veteran leadership last season and Bay has been around long enough to fill that bill.
"I looked at the roster and there's not a guy that was born in the '70s on that thing," Bay said with a smile. "I don't feel like I'm that old, but I guess I am around here. So the chance to do that ... I'm not a wave-the-towel kind of guy on the top step, but I've been doing this a long time and there's a lot of young guys, so hopefully I can teach them a thing or two and they can teach me something.
"For me, it's just putting the past behind and moving on and being part of the community where I live. There are just a lot of positives. When I got let go, wherever I ended up was going to be a fresh start. The chance to do it here in my backyard is nice. That's all I was looking for. It didn't work out [in New York] for whatever reason. There was kind of a mutual split, just, 'Hey, it's not working.' I want to start fresh, start the slate clean and that's what I get to do here."