Jason Bay signed a four-year, $66-million contract with the New York Mets on Dec. 29, 2009, and the deal has been a bust since Day 1.
Meet Jason Bay, Then And Now
Through 11 years as a major leaguer, Bay has established himself as an everyday left fielder – and emergency center fielder – who averages 33 doubles and 29 home runs a year while hitting for a solid average. In 4,890 plate appearances, he’s hit 234 doubles and 207 home runs. In 2009, his only full year with the Boston Red Sox expired, he hit .267 with 29 doubles and 36 home runs.
Then he hit .259 with 20 doubles and 6 home runs for the Mets in 2010 after signing the most expensive contract of his career. It hasn’t been pretty since.
His best power numbers as a Met so far occurred in 2011 when he hit 19 doubles and 12 home runs along with a whopping .245 batting average. As of Friday morning, he has 2 doubles and 4 home runs in 83 plate appearances this season.
Clearly not hitting well, Bay is an offensive black hole who sucks up the scrappy attitude of younger and/or overachieving players who don’t know they shouldn’t be winning. Just as bad, he takes playing time away from guys like Scott Hairston, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and – when he recovers – Mike Baxter.
Making Cents Of Dollars
General Manager Sandy Alderson eschewed predecessor Omar Minaya’s big-spending mentality for a low-budget, small-market team mentality. He’s offered not one huge contract – e.g. $36 million over 3 years for Oliver Perez; D.J. Carrasco appears to be one of Alderson’s biggest blunders at $2.4 million over 2 years.
With the team payroll down to $91 million in the GM’s second season, Bay’s contract is an albatross – second only to the now-legendary Johan Santana. Bay is owed $16 million for 2012, $16 million for 2013 and a $3 million buyout in 2014 – assuming he doesn’t reach 600 plate appearances next year and automatically vest the option for a $17 million salary in 2014.
Alderson and the Wilpons were willing to eat $12 million of Perez’ salary, $6 million of Luis Castillo’s contract and less than a million on Carrasco in recent years, but Bay is owed at least $19 million for 2013-2014. There’s another $8 million for the second half of 2012 too.
It seems highly unlikely the front office will eat that much contract. But what if absorbing that salary wasn’t a one-way street?
The non-waiver trade deadline is July 31, and there might be a few franchises willing to take an aging left fielder who can still field well and add to team chemistry.
Who Would Take Bay?
Throughout his career, the right-hander has almost never hits the ball to the opposite field and does not have much success when he does. In 398 plate appearances, he’s hit 24 doubles, 26 home runs and a .256 batting average. Instead, Bay prefers to hit up the middle, boasting a .347 average with 120 doubles and 96 home runs in 1,698 plate appearances. Left field has also been a frequent target of balls of Bay’s bat. In 1,020 plate appearances, the left fielder has 90 doubles, 85 home runs and a .459 batting average.
Taking everything into account, the ideal trade partner should be a team with a short left field porch and/or closer center field, in need of a left fielder and willing to take on some salary.
In theory, the best trade partner would be the Boston Red Sox for one monster reason. While Bay has struggled to find his way on base or launch bombs in the caverns of Citi Field, he could go to Fenway Park and abuse the doubles-machine that is the Green Monster, which is just over 37-feet tall. The 310 feet down the left field line is the shortest of all current MLB parks and would reward Bay for pulling the ball. Left-center field measures an uninteresting 379 feet, although the apex of center field measures 420 feet.
The other problem with Boston is their lack of need. While supposed-star Carl Crawford and a myriad of other Red Sox have been banged up, the front office has signed and/or called up a number of replacements. Daniel Nava is manning left field these days, and has a .298 average.
Another possible partner would be the Philadelphia Phillies. While many Mets fans would be very happy to sabotage the Phillies, General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. won’t intentionally damage his squad – projected to contend for the World Series. But the dimensions at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark would benefit Bay, especially the 330-foot left and right field line poles. Left-center rests at 370 feet and center field peaks at 408, although balls have a history of flying out of that park.
But like the Red Sox, the problem lies in Philadelphia’s need for a left fielder. John Mayberry Jr. is backing up all three outfield positions with a weak .222 average, but starting left fielder Juan Pierre is hitting over .300, even if most of those hits are singles.
Trade Bay,Cash For Lee, Lopez
Perhaps the best trade partner in practice is actually the Mets sister club, the Houston Astros. Minute Maid Park has a reputation of being favorable for home runs, even if the overall offensive numbers are lacking. The left field foul pole is only 315 away from home plate, although it includes a 19-foot-tall wall. Left-center is just 362 feet away, while center is a tremendous 435 feet from home.
The Astros appear to be en route to another disastrous season, although they have uncovered some gems in Jose Altuve. While new General Manager Jeff Luhnow doesn’t have many big names to play with after Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence were traded last year, but they do have an albatross of their own. Carlos Lee signed a six-year, $100 million contract to swat home runs for Houston back in 2006. Now 35-years-old and 264 pounds heavy, the word on the street is that Houston would very much like to be rid of the $18.5 million he’s due in 2012.
If Alderson is not planning on calling up Matt Den Dekker or Fred Lewis before the rosters expand this fall, perhaps it makes sense to add another left fielder for the 2012 campaign. Lee is, theoretically, capable of playing either first base or left field. And while he’ll win a lead glove before a Gold Glove, the right-handed batter was sporting a .297 average with 4 home runs and 8 doubles this year before landing on the DL with a hamstring injury.
Perhaps the Mets front office can hash out a deal with their Houston counterparts that will swap both aging outfielders. Logic dictates that the Astros would only consider the offer if it saved them money; their $60.6 million payroll is the third lowest among all teams. A fair offer might include New York giving Bay and enough money to cover 2012 and half of 2013 while Houston sends Lee and all of his contract to the Mets.
But if the Mets were to eat all that salary and given their current needs, it would only be fair for New York to get something else out of the deal. Perhaps right-handed reliever Wilton Lopez. His 1-year, $515,000 contract is hardly intimidating, and he’s posted a 2.51 ERA and .959 WHIP throwing 32.1 innings in 32 games. Lopez, in his fourth year as a major league pitcher, sports a mid-90s fastball, slider and changeup. Lopez has no saves this year, but he has earned 7 holds so far, suggesting he could replace Jon Rauch or another late-inning reliever.