The signing of Jason Bay elicited some comparisons to past Mets acquisitions. Tim Marchman simply put up a picture of Mo Vaughn on his blog upon hearing the news. The level-headed Marchman was likely being tongue-in-cheek, as the association was a bit over-the-top. Or he simply wanted to post a picture of Big Mo (and who could blame him?). In fairness, he followed up with a more substantive post. Jeff Pearlman wrote a column at Sports Illustrated comparing Bay to George Foster, whose considerable skills disappeared almost immediately after inking a then-sizeable five year, $10 million contract with the Mets before the 1982 season. It wasn't a great comparison but there was something there; Foster signed his deal at age 33, following a string of exemplary offensive seasons. Bay is 31 and one of the best hitters in baseball. Pearlman subsequently made another comparison at his blog -- Kevin McReynolds, who was 27 when acquired by the Mets.
Gut reaction without looking at statistics is that the comp is fair and it would be nice if Bay performs for the Mets like McReynolds did. Pearlman feels differently:
McReynolds, like Bay, was a flatliner ballplayer. Great numbers, solid effort, little spark; little oomph. When you pay the sort of money the Mets are giving Bay (and gave McReynolds), you want the complete and total package. But McReynolds-like Bay-inspired nobody. He was a good, solid guy who really wasn't meant for New York.
I wasn't self aware during most of McReynolds's time with the Mets but have read enough about him to understand his storyline -- talented player who didn't have much passion for the game. Evidence suggests this might be true, but it's the first part of the storyline that is most important. Pearlman might be right that Bay is not an "oomph" player, but who cares? You don't pay for "oomph"; you pay for talent. And despite his defensive shortcomings and the fact that the Mets overpaid a bit, Bay has plenty of talent. Enough to post a .397 wOBA in the powerhouse AL East last season.
For purposes of the following comparison, let's assume Bay's option vests and he plays five years with the Mets, just as McReynolds did. Listed are McReynolds's Mets season-by-season WAR per Baseball Projection and Bay's projected WAR, starting with the CHONE projected 4.0 for 2010 and knocking 0.5 off each year:
That 4.0 starting point might be a bit generous, but even so McReynolds outperforms the hypothetical Bay performance. WAR isn't infallible but it's not as if McReynolds's totals were inflated by fluky defensive stats -- he posted wRC+'s of 149, 128, 122, 120 and 106 with the Mets and played nearly every game. Give me a durable power hitting corner outfielder over a spark-filled dynamo who is only on the leaderboards for dirtiest uniform and most buffet tables flipped. Bay is the next McReynolds? Awesome!