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The First Met of the Next Decade

What did I miss? When did Jason Bay become Dave Gallagher?

We’re getting a three-time All-Star here, and not an All-Star in the sense that Gary Sheffield was stellar in Paleozoic times. We’re not getting some overblown fourth outfielder. We’re getting a guy who has played five full seasons and has driven in more than 100 runs in four of them, which appears pretty impressive considering many of his swings occurred while surrounded by Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jason Bay is a major league outfielder. We’re not converting Keith Miller from the infield or handing Daniel Murphy a treasure map and praying he’ll find a ball while he’s out there. Jason Bay survived a large left field wall in Boston. Didn’t fall down as a matter of course and was known to occasionally hit pitches off or over it.

This is an upgrade over the 2009 situation in left field. This is an upgrade over the 2008 situation in left field. He may not be as lethal with the line drives as Moises Alou when Moises Alou was healthy, but remind me of how many weeks Moises Alou was healthy. Jason Bay is capable of giving us our most consistent production at his position since Cliff Floyd was in one piece, which, sadly, wasn’t all that often. He won’t jump over fences like Endy Chavez, but the fences at Citi Field might thwart even Endy.

I’m happy to have Jason Bay coming to the Mets, assuming he passes what I hope is a rigorous physical conducted a third-party medical staff. Mind you, I’m not overwhelmed by his presence. He’s not a franchise player, but he’s performed at a high level for quite a while now and he’s not in his early forties. Thus, I ask innocently, what’s the problem, exactly? I wouldn’t give him whatever exorbitant amount they’re giving him if I were doing the Mets’ books, but since when do you attract attractive players without attractive compensation? The Mets were going to have pay somebody this offseason. The four years, $66 million and whatever scheme kicks in for a potential fifth year…insane in real life, but about par for a team that will no longer be paying Delgado and Wagner their princely sums.

And how much do you suppose ticket and taco prices were going to dip next season without Jason Bay?

I’m all for tossing suggestions into the Hot Stove. But once a deal is made, unless it is so prohibitive that it makes future upgrading impossible, I’ve got to shift into Hope For The Best territory. Somebody will inevitably produce reliable data proving Jason Bay shares more than initials with the second coming of Jeromy Burnitz, that he is sheer detriment and no asset. Yet until somebody who brandishes proof that Bay is a self-inflicting wound waiting to happen is appointed to the board of Sterling Mets, it won’t matter. I’ll be willing to complain if and when Bay is a total bust, but if he’s here, he’s here with a clean slate. Jason Bay’s my leftfielder. I don’t think he’ll turn the team around by himself, but I don’t think any one player can turn this team around.

One player can help, though. Suddenly, a lineup with Bay joining Francoeur, Wright, Beltran, Reyes — if all are healthy — is better than whatever we watched most of 2009. Suddenly, three professional outfielders who aren’t undercooked or over the hill will patrol our outfield. Suddenly, the Mets might be a wee bit better in a couple of departments.

The starting pitching’s a mess. I can’t blame that on Jason Bay. The Mets need to find some arms. They need a catcher (preferably one who won’t wear 6-4-3 on his back all season). They could use an upgrade at first and second. All that’s obvious enough to blot out illusions that this is supposed to be the free agent who delivers us to the doorstep of the Promised Land. Jason Bay’s presence will be magnified for a while because he’s the new, expensive toy, but we’ll settle in with him and accept him as a part of a hopefully long-term solution, not a singular solution himself. Here’s a multipart plan: Bay and an arm or two this year; suck less as a unit; and don’t go nuts with expectations. Improve from lousy ’09 and keep an eye on next year’s market. We’re not in this for only what lies directly ahead.

I’m conditioned to think of Mets free agents first as Tom Hausman and Elliot Maddox — scrap heap bargains that even the Dollar Tree couldn’t move — and second as Bobby Bonilla ticking time bomb disasters. Occasionally, however, the Mets make a decent signing. Like Robin Ventura. Like Carlos Beltran. Like Jason Bay? Could be.

I’ve long rued learning that the strong Rookie of the Year candidate Pittsburgh was featuring in 2004 had been a Met farmhand two years earlier. I didn’t have any better idea of Jason Bay’s pre-breakthrough existence than Steve Phillips did when he traded him for Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook. Difference is only one of us was paid to be general manager of a big league ballclub. Yeah, Bay pinged around a bit before blossoming as a Buc. Yeah, Montreal GM Omar Minaya overlooked his talents, too. So now Minaya and the Mets make amends for Phillips dismissing Bay as nothing more than a fifth outfielder, if I recall his after-the-fact appraisal. That always makes me feel good in winter, like our getting Burnitz and Roger Cedeño back once upon a time, even if the homecoming angle won’t matter at all come summer.

In the frosty interim, Bay’s backstory is a bonus. His track record’s not bad either. However he measures up to Matt Holliday is immaterial. There was no indication Holliday wanted to be in New York, and he would have required a far larger and longer commitment. Besides, Coors Field players make me nervous outside their natural habitat. Our consolation prize is a leftfielder who can hit. Is he perfect for the manufactured quirks of Citi Field? I’d maintain all we really know about Citi Field, besides its initial resistance to photos of Mookie Wilson, is that a terrible team played in it for 81 games and looked terrible doing so. Let’s see what happens with a somewhat better and less disabled crew now that it’s less altogether mysterious.

I’ll admit I’m susceptible to the allure of brand-name players whom I don’t watch every day. I thought Francoeur was a fine idea last July based on idealized glimpses of him from his better moments in Atlanta (also, Ryan Church just depressed the living spit out of me). I recall Bay pounding the Mets silly several years ago as a Pirate and noticed the Red Sox didn’t miss too many beats when he took over for Manny Ramirez. I understand there are drawbacks. That’s gonna be the case for any leftfielder who isn’t a young, not yet corrupted Barry Bonds.

We’ve just come through one of the most grismal periods in Mets history. Hell, I’m not sure we’re still not in it. Just about everything since the ninth inning of Game Seven has ranged from grim to dismal. When the Mets take a break from saddening us and embarrassing themselves to sign a player who doesn’t out and out suck — who may actually do the opposite — I think we owe it to ourselves, within reason and the realm of our understandable caution and cynicism, to enjoy it, take a little heart from it and feel a tad better about life because of it.

This decade of Mets baseball killed us over and over again. That wasn’t Jason Bay’s fault either. We desperately need a new decade. Pending a physical, however, we won’t need a new leftfielder because we’ll have one.

Welcome to the Mets, Jason Bay. And welcome, all of us, to 2010.