Yesterday I wrote an article asking if the Mets should trade Jason Bay and David Wright for nothing. My idea, clearly not explained well enough in the piece, was that the price to the Mets for another club taking on Bay and his salary was Wright. In the comments section, some suggested holding Wright and trading Bay. Sounds great – who’s the GM who’s giving up anything for Bay while taking on his salary?
Bay has the double whammy of being highly paid and producing little on the field. The past two years, he’s pulled down $22.5 million and has recorded a combined 2.2 fWAR in that time frame. Last year alone, 122 different hitters posted a fWAR over 2.2 and most of them didn’t come close to making Bay’s $16 million.
He turned 34 years old at the end of the 2011 season, he’s been injured both of the past two years and he plays one of the least valuable defensive positions in the game. Bay, while seemingly a great guy who cares and busts his tail on every groundout, is old, overpaid, injury-prone, not very productive and his defense is by no means a saving grace.
He might be one of the least tradeable players in the majors. The only way the Mets could trade him is to package him with someone who provides more value than Bay takes away or pay the vast majority of his salary or take on an even worse contract in return in the deal.
So, who are the players with even worse contracts than Bay? Here we get into some muddy waters. Bay has two years and $32 million left on his contract and a $17 million vesting option. Is that deal worse than Carlos Zambrano’s, which has one year at $18 million and an unlikely to vest $19.25 million option? Remember, Bay is generally regarded as a good guy while Zambrano has been suspended for disciplinary reasons.
Is it worse than Alex Rios’ deal, which has three years and $38 million remaining, including his buyout? Rios is three years younger and while he was worse than Bay in 2011, he was significantly better in 2010.
It is my belief that there are only eight contracts in baseball worse than Bay’s. Most of those are for players who signed $100 million dollar deals who are not likely to come close to providing an equivalent bang for the buck. Yet these players will at least produce some bang. Is it worse to have a highly-paid guy who provides little or an obscenely-paid guy who produces something, just not what his contract pays? There’s no definitive answer for that and your mileage may vary on whether you would prefer the true albatross contract with some return on the investment.
So, in my opinion, here are the guys who have worse deals than Bay, listed in alphabetical order.
Carl Crawford (6 years, $128 million) – There’s little doubt that Crawford is going to provide some value for the Red Sox over the life of his contract, even if FanGraphs pegged his value last year at under a million dollars. But there’s little chance he earns that deal and that’s both a lot of money and a lot of years. Worst-case scenario has the Mets on the hook for Bay for three more seasons. Crawford will still have $63.25 million owed to him after that point.
Ryan Howard (5 years, $125 million) – The extension that Howard signed in the middle of the 2010 season, widely criticized at the time, finally kicks in starting in 2012. Now, this deal was panned before Howard put up a 1.6 fWAR in 2011 and before he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the playoffs last year which will force him to miss significant time in 2012. While some contracts on this list one can argue will end up better than Bay’s – this is not one of them.
Joe Mauer (7 years, $161 million) – The last three years of this deal, the Twins will be paying $63 million for a catcher in his age 33-35 seasons. In his age 33-35 seasons, Mike Piazza put up a combined 11.1 fWAR. If he ages like Piazza, Mauer could be worth this deal. But Piazza never played in fewer than 135 games in a non-strike season until he was 35. Mauer played in 82 games last year. This is too many years and too many dollars for a catcher for my liking.
Alex Rodriguez (6 years, $147 million) – This includes his pro-rated signing bonus but does not include the potential $30 million in “marketing agreements” for reaching various HR milestones. Rodriguez posted a combined 8.0 WAR the past two years – a very nice total. However, 38 hitters surpassed that total and Rodriguez pulled down $63 million in that span. A-Rod is still a very good player but he’s just not remotely close to being worth what he’s paid.
Alfonso Soriano (3 years, $54 million) – After having a slight bounceback in 2010, Soriano stumbled again in 2011. Sure, you can point to his .266 BABIP last year as a reason for some optimism to expect better numbers the next few years. But Soriano will be 36 on Opening Day and my guess is that his production does not improve over the life of his contract. One of the few players in history to go 40-40, Soriano amassed just 2 SB last year in 137 games played.
Mark Teixeira (5 years, $112.5 million) – Another player who will provide more production than Bay but he’ll struggle to earn anything close to what he’ll be paid. Only a strong defensive season last year kept him close to being worth his contract, yet FanGraphs still shows a $3.5 million deficit. He’ll probably come close to being worth his contract in 2012 and possibly 2013, too. But those last three years could be brutal.
Vernon Wells (3 years, $63 million) – He’s had just one season in the last five that he’s been above average and it wasn’t last year, when he barely topped replacement level. The only thing that kept him above replacement was moving to an outfield corner. If only the Mets could have traded Bay here before the Blue Jays dumped Wellls. By the way Tony Reagins, the GM who traded for Wells, lost his job.
Jayson Werth (6 years, $114 million) – For three straight seasons, Werth posted fWAR between 5.0 and 5.3 which helped get him this monster contract. Last year he provided less than half of that value. He’s better than what he showed last year but nowhere near $114 million good. He’s clearly better than Bay but I’d rather not contemplate the last three years of Werth’s deal.
Here’s some deals that I figure are roughly equal to Bay’s – Adam Dunn (3 years, $44 million), John Lackey (3 years, $45.75 million)*, Rios, Zambrano, Barry Zito (2 years, $46 million). Again, I can see reasonable people not wanting any part of these guys, either.
* – As for Lackey, he’s got an interesting clause in his contract. According to Cot’s his contract has a “2015 club option at Major League minimum salary if Lackey misses significant time with surgery for pre-existing elbow injury in 2010-14.” Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery and will likely miss the 2012 season, which means the Red Sox can get him back in 2015 for virtually nothing, making this upcoming missed season virtually a wash. Lackey posted a 4.1 fWAR in 2010 and if he can get back to that guy after the surgery, I’d much rather have that than Bay. But there are no guarantees with pitchers returning from injury.
ZiPS is optimistic about Bay in 2012 and that does not include any adjustment for the new outfield dimensions. It’s certainly possible for Bay to exceed the production he’s given the Mets so far, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear. The bottom line is that his contract, combined with his actual production the past two years, makes it a near certainty that he will be on the Mets the next two seasons.