A relaxed and seemingly robust Jason Bay made such a positive impression Monday in his Seattle media unveiling, it was hard not to imagine a best-case scenario in his quest for a career revival.
Bay is a perfect reclamation candidate. He’s highly motivated. He’s landed in what should be a comfortable environment, far removed from the pressures of New York and of living up to a huge contract. He has a variety of possible explanations for his three-year decline, including two concussions (not that he offers any excuses; Bay noted that he was very proud that when it came to his Mets’ woes, he “stood up and owned it; I didn’t point fingers.”).
What Bay can point to are flashes of his former greatness that emerged, tantalizingly, over the past three years, only to disappear just as suddenly.
“If I had gone months without any signs of life, it would have been, ‘OK, this isn’t working,’ “ he said. “All of a sudden, it was like, it’s there. We just have to get to a point it’s there consistently. ... Am I the exact same guy I was in ‘04 or ‘05? Probably not. But a percentage of that, a large percentage of that, is still pretty good.”
Yet the hopes and dreams of the Mariners, and especially their fans, are not centered on a 34-year-old outfielder who hit .165 last year. Bay represents, if all works out for the best, a bonus prize, an unexpected gift — the sort of serendipity that all clubs need in a winning season.
But by virtue of a fluke of timing, Bay also represents to the cynical Seattle baseball fan another symbol that the Mariners aren’t ready to go all-in on pushing this young team toward contention.
If Bay had signed after a major acquisition, his arrival certainly would have been greeted with fewer eye-rolls and mutterings of, “Typical Mariners.” The Mariners, by all accounts, have been working all winter toward landing a bigger prize. But right now, he and utility man Robert Andino represent the only new blood. And with big-ticket items like Zack Greinke, Mike Napoli, B.J. Upton and Wil Myers flying off the shelf, it just adds to the frustration. And the impatience.
Count Jack Zduriencik among those who wish something major could get done more quickly. But the Mariners general manager also sees the big picture, and realizes that many prizes are still unclaimed, including the three players the Mariners were most closely linked to in at the winter meetings in Nashville: free agents Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. And Zduriencik knows better than anyone the various tentacles of trade talks that could land the Mariners another urgently needed bat — one with more certainty attached than Bay at this stage of his career.
“It isn’t easy being patient, quite honestly,” Zduriencik said Monday. “You have to be. You have to discipline yourself to be patient. You realize this is a process agents go through, players go through, or if you’re dealing with another club, that they go through.”
And so, Zduriencik continues to do what he’s been doing all winter — burning the phone lines.
“We’re going through a lot of dialogue since the GM meetings, and through the winter meetings, all weekend, even all morning,” he said. “We have a lot of discussions going with different angles, and we’ll see where it all ends up.”
Manager Eric Wedge said, “I don’t think we’re done. Jack has a lot of irons in the fire. He’s been a tireless worker this winter, whether it be on the phones or meetings, whatever it may be. Every line of communication he’s been utilizing, along with Jeff (assistant GM Jeff Kingston) and everyone else in the front office. We’ll see. We have a lot of time left.”
Intellectually, that’s true, of course. A team doesn’t have to be built in December. It has to be ready for opening day. But, in the meantime, Mariners fans continue to hunger for that high-impact guy who will excite the imagination and change the narrative.
Jason Bay is a good, solid signing, the kind of low-risk, high-reward move that the Mariners should be making. But the search continues.