I have always loved baseball, but I have not always thought about it the same way. In present day, naturally, I am incredibly analytical about the entire league. In the nineties, I was a young fanboy who knew the statistics of ever Rockies player. That began to change in 2002 with Jay Payton.
Yes. Jay Payton.
For the first time in my life, I paid attention to other team's roster in 2002 when Colorado was playing the New York Mets. New York had a versatile outfielder who placed 3rd in the 2000 Rookie of the Year voting, ahead of Pat Burrell, Juan Pierre and Lance Berkman. He played all three outfield positions, had an average pushing .300 and exhibited a little pop. I liked him, but Bobby Valentine didn't.
In his career with New York, Jay Payton was consistently pushed to the bench in favor uninspiring options such as Timo Perez, Benny Agbayani, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Roger Cedeno. A light went on in my head, and I told my brother that Jay Payton would be a great fit with the Rockies. Two months later, Dan O'Dowd traded for Payton, and though I personally liked John Thomson and Mark Little a lot, I couldn't stop smiling. I beamed with pride as Payton hit 28 HR with Colorado in 2003, and my brother still tells the story of my pre-trade sugestion. Jay Payton was why I began closely following Major League Baseball, not just the Colorado Rockies.
My mood for Payton shifted dramatically by 2010. He had missed 2009 with an injury and signed a MLC to play OF in AAA. He performed well but still had inferior numbers to two homegrown hitters who had paid their dues in the Rockies' oranization since the first Payton/Rockies era. Cole Garner and Matt Miller weren't big prospects, but I wanted to see one of them get their chance, as both were eligible to file for free agency after the season.
Instead, the Rockies' brass called up Payton in September in an effort to make a playoff push. I was exasperated. Poor Cole. Poor Matt. But it turned out to be a pretty good decision.
Payton got himself into 20 games and strode to the plate 36 times (nine more than Chris Nelson), and he produced surprisingly well, like former Orioles' outfielders named Jay seem to do. In fact, Payton's OPS+ of 120 ranked third on the team (SSS), behind the obvious suspects. That included a stout .343/.361/.514 slash line. Juicy.
He had more extra base hits than strikeouts, was 4-for-10 with two doubles as a pinch-hitter, and played solid defense. He provided a calming veteran presence, which all-too-often is scoffed at by the blogging comminuty.He was absolutely the correct choice, as Colorado needed a veteran bat that wouldn't be overwhelmed by the bright lights of Coors Field as they pushed towards a playoff berth. Veterans might be more apt to sign minor league contracts with Colorado if they have reason to believe that success in the minors will be rewards. Options are never a bad thing.
Cole Garner also latched on to Payton's veteran wisdom, and if Colorado gets any MLB value from Garner, the veteran may have helped in that regard. Baseball cannot operate on upside at all times, and that is another way Payton has taught me to look at the game differently. His value was undeniable, yet it provided no concrete value past 2010.
Payton deserved more from me. You are an underrated Rockie, Jay.
Grade: B+. September call-ups are SSS by definition, but the Rockies could not have asked Payton to do any more than he did in 2010.
The Ohio native did a lot in 2010 to refurbish his standing in the views of front offices around the league. Unfortunately for him, he also celebrated his 38th birthday two months ago tomorrow. The market for 38-year-old outfielders with 36 PA in two seasons is understandably low, and Payton remains unsigned. With Cole Garner, Charles Blackmon, Jeff Salazar and Michael Mitchell in the running for the AAA roster, there isn't even a spot available for Payton to return to Colorado Springs, even after Matt Miller and Chris Frey moved on to the Phillies. I hope he catches on somewhere. Even with the small sample size, Payton showed he had something left in the tank in 2010.