It was last winter around this time that Mariners' 2013 plan began to form its shape, becoming an abstracted, big-t Theory to be tested on the open marketplace of ideas that is public opinion. It's very easy to look back today and understand why this plan didn't work. Then again, it was also easy to understand then that filling a roster with under-performing veterans hopefully on the cusp of another break-out year wasn't the best way of going about things either, but we've had that conversation far too many times.
On January 11th, news broke that one of these 2013 Mariner reclamation projects was planning on leaving baseball for good--not because he didn't want to play anymore, but from the sounds of his comments, because he was one Homer too many in the No-Homers-club:
Jason Bay says while he hasn't filed any papers yet, he can't see a scenario in which he comes back to play, so he's essentially retiring.— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) January 11, 2014
Jason Bay could be referring to a number of things in this "scenario," be it family commitments, salary and contractual agreements, or something as simple as age and career longevity. None of those really seem as likely as the idea that, well, nobody wants the guy. For all the Jason Bays out there, it's an unfortunate turn of events and an ending to a story that everyone was hoping would turn out differently.
The reclamation project is one of the weirdest phenomena in all of baseball. I'm not even so sure it's the result of bad philosophy as much as it is risky gambling, and hey, they have rehabilitation programs for that. Because man, that story is incredible: a (bat, arm) that had so much promise weighed down by a few bad years, just waiting to be found again like a pristine diamond buried under ten feet of blackened soot, ready to (hit, throw) like the good old days.
The biggest problem with reclamation projects is the hope for Jason Bay returning to form is fueled by the "success" of other reclamation projects--projects that usually turn the reclaimed player into something entirely different than what he was before he became shitty. Oliver Perez and Mark Prior had success because they were utilized in a different way than the old Oliver Perez and the old Mark Prior. The Rays are great at understanding this, but that's because for some reason they have a secret phone line with the A's they don't share with anyone else, and the rest of the league gets to try and copy results with different processes.
Now, sure, most of these reclamation projects have historically been pitchers, as it seems easier to tweak fundamentals and experiment with form on a volatile position that requires different kinds of players in one single game. In the outfield? Boy, it would be nice if everyone just hit .320 with twenty dingers and had legs to run. There isn't exactly room to experiment with a new kind of outfielder when there are really only two: major-league starters and the fourth guy. And it's especially weird when you are trying to fix a player who had simply turned into a bad outfielder, resulting in the two days a week you planned on playing him ending up being just as bad as the five days a week he had played the year before. Nobody in the Mariners organization expected Jason Bay to be an All-Star again. They simply hoped to milk out whatever Good was left in him, and it turned out it had mostly left.
So Jason Bay rides into the sunset with three All-Star appearances and the scorn of 8.3 million New Yorkers, and following him are most likely Jeremy Bonderman and Jon Garland, both of whom probably only have minor-league spring training contracts and invites left for their careers. And while comparing this year's philosophy to previous years is a bit silly with such turnover in staff, we can see one thing taking shape: a (so far) apparent absence of grizzled veterans and banged-up reclamation projects. An absence of a power-sans-defense philosophy that failed so mightily replaced with hope for what they already have. A philosophy that thinks that Abraham Almonte would be a better fourth outfielder than Jason Bay. This is fascinating.
The question remains if this change is a step in the right direction, or if it's just a fuck-it-let's-try-this-thing-now change. It certainly feels nicer than last year so far, if that makes any difference whatsoever. But I can't help wondering if a certain thought process is following Jason Bay out the door and into the setting Western sun at the same time. I can't help but think that maybe, just maybe, the Jason Bays and the Jeremy Bondermans were crucial steps on the path to Corey Hart. Maybe bad process producing bad results entails a change in philosophy. But then I looked at the corner of my web browser and saw that stupid Willie Bloomquist ad and remembered that I don't have a good answer for why I started to think I could understand this team in the first place.