In his last 13 games, Jason Bay is 5-45 for a .111 AVG. Normally we would dismiss this as a slump. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to write off the entire tenure of Bay with the Mets. Since joining the club as a free agent following the 2009 season, Bay has a .246/.332/.366 line. That’s a .698 OPS and a 93 OPS+ mark in 708 PA.
Let’s make a comparison to one of my least favorite Mets ever. Jeff Francoeur had a similar number of PA with New York and was essentially run out of town for his poor production. In his career with the Mets, Francoeur had a .268/.311/.423 slash line. That works out to a .734 OPS and a 97 OPS+ in 755 PA.
In their time with the Mets, Francoeur has been the better offensive player.
That’s a really unpleasant thought to ponder. There was no shortage of vitriol coming from this corner (and many others) about how the Mets wasted $5 million on Francoeur when it was quite clear that he wasn’t any good. The Mets rectified that mistake by sending Francoeur out of town, making him a problem of the Texas Rangers.
So, how should we view Bay and what should be done going forward? Unlike Francoeur, Bay had a track record of being a fine offensive player. However, there were signs available that this wasn’t a great deal back when the Mets inked him to the big contract. The projection system ZiPS was very pessimistic on how Bay would perform over the life of his new deal. Here’s part of a Q&A I did with ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski prior to the 2010 season:
ZiPS likes Jason Bay well enough in 2010 but then projects a sharp playing time decrease the following year and a sharp drop in production. What causes that type of projection from a guy who has been pretty consistent in four of the past five seasons?
DS: He’s not the type of player that ages well and already, more of his offensive value has been tied up in home runs. Fenway kind of masked this somewhat by hiding the decline in Bay’s non-homer hitting. One-trick ponies don’t age well.
That projection turned out to be optimistic in hindsight as injuries have kept Bay from playing full time and even when he has been on the field, he’s been nowhere near his previously established offensive levels. Bay’s non-HR hitting has been lousy and his homer production has been nothing special for a middle infielder, much less a guy paid to hit balls out of the park.
There have been 31 different left fielders to amass 650 or more PA since the start of the 2010 season. Bay’s .698 OPS ranks 26th. In that same span, his 12 HR is only marginally better at 25th. His fWAR is 1.9, which places 23rd.
There is simply no way to sugar coat things in this situation. Bay has been awful and there’s very little indication that things are going to get better any time in the future. Coming into this season, Bay’s age-based comps at Baseball-Reference was filled with players like Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mitchell and Bobby Higginson who were essentially done as productive players in their early 30s.
Mets fans do not have to look too far to think of another OFer who stopped being productive. Kevin McReynolds was an MVP candidate as a 28-year old (he finished 3rd). Two years later he was still a productive hitter with a 121 OPS+. McReynolds had a 93 OPS+ as a 33-year old and his final season in the majors came a year later.
Bay is 32 and he has a 78 OPS+ this year.
Then there is the matter of his contract. Bay is pulling down $16 million this year and he is owed that much the following two seasons, as well. He has a $17 million club option for 2014, with a $3 million buyout. However, Bay’s option vests with 600 PA in 2013 or 500 PA in both 2012 and 2013. At the bare minimum, the Mets owe Bay $35 million after this year and it could easily be $49 million.
The combination of his production with the Mets, his age-based comps and his future contractual obligations leads in one direction – barring a tremendous turnaround in the remainder of the 2011 season, the Mets should actively shop Bay and be willing to pick up the majority of his contract to get any salary relief they can.
In 226 PA with the Mets, Lucas Duda has a .745 OPS and a 104 OPS+. He’s been better than Bay and is still at an age where he could conceivably improve. It’s possible the Mets could better their club by playing Duda over Bay, the uncertainty due to the fact that Bay’s been a good defender in his time with the Mets while Duda has impressed no one with his glove work.
Much like with Francisco Rodriguez this season, one of the goals of 2013 will undoubtedly be to make sure that Bay’s option does not vest. The Mets should do everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. And I do mean everything. If they are unable to trade him while assuming 80% of his contract either this offseason or next, they should release him outright.
Despite the huge difference in innings played, Rodriguez provided more value to the Mets during his career in Queens than Bay has. Rodriguez “earned” $8.4 million in 2010-11 with the Mets while Bay “earned” $7.8 million, according to FanGraphs.
The Mets could get that same production (likely better) from Duda at a minimum wage the next few years. It costs virtually nothing to switch them out in 2012 and it will save $14 million (less whatever Duda makes) in 2014.
Records on eating salary are sketchy, but it is believed that the most money a club has ever been responsible for is the $22 million that was remaining on Russ Ortiz’ deal when he was released by the Diamondbacks in 2006. Ortiz was picked up by the Orioles in 2006 and bounced around in the majors until 2010.
In 2005, Ortiz posted a -0.4 fWAR for the D’Backs, meaning he was worse than a replacement player. Before being released by Arizona in 2006, he put up a 0.0 fWAR, meaning he was a replacement player. In his career after the Diamondbacks, Ortiz put up a combined -0.1 fWAR over parts of four seasons.
The decision to release him was the right one. Ortiz would have been no better and likely worse than a Triple-A pitcher the D’Backs could have paid minimum wage. It’s bad enough to pay an exorbitant amount of money – there’s no sense compounding the problem by getting terrible production, too.
And that’s where the Mets are at with Bay right now. He may not be replacement-player bad like Ortiz was. But he’s been awful and the Mets have a suitable alternative ready to step in with Duda. Of course, Duda may be viewed by the club as the replacement for Carlos Beltran. If that’s the case, the Mets should use some of the savings from Beltran’s contract coming off the books to find a corner OF that can put up a 100 OPS+ to replace Bay.
Before any wiseguys chime in that Francoeur has a 114 OPS+ this season and the Mets should get him for 2012, I would like to point out that in his last 62 games, Francoeur has a .247/.295/.385 line, numbers remarkably consistent with what he did with the Mets in 2010. He had a .683 OPS with the Mets last year and a .680 OPS in his last 264 PA. That’s still “production” to be replaced, not acquired.