The Jason Bay saga is over, as the left-fielder has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $66 million deal with the New York Mets. The deal includes a fifth-year option that would bring the total amount of the deal to $80 million.
The concern surrounding Bay, which has caused many to be hesitant to commit a five-year deal to someone entering his age-31 year, is “old people skills.”
Bay cannot play defense to save his life and has a low batting average while seeing his value in plate discipline and power. Power is generally the last component to a player’s game to develop — while also being an early traits to disappear (speed is widely considered the first to go). Given this is what Bay’s entire game revolves around, it is difficult to justify such a large contract. (As for Bay’s power playing in Citi Field… every batter that steps into that park has to play by the same rules that Bay will, so his power will still be greater than most that enter the park.)
Bay used to hit for average, but a .267 batting average over the last three years suggests that this is a thing of the past. His defense certainly won’t improve, while his speed (you can generally rely on him to barely crack double figures) will eventually deteriorate. His power figures to hold up well enough over the next four years that the contract won’t be considered an albatross. Bay’s fly ball rate has increased five years running, while his isolated power has remained strong sans the 2007 outlier season.
It’s the fifth year that has all sorts of warning signs. There is no word on what the vesting criteria will be, but all indications are that it is “easily attained,” likely making it a low base of games played the previous season. If so, it is unfortunate the Mets couldn’t protect themselves more aggressively in this area.
The idea I want to explore here is whether or not this fifth year option should even matter. Certainly, from a market and team valuation standpoint, the fifth year matters. However, it seems like everyone under the sun assumed the Mets would eventually cave and give five years. While part of the assumption rested in the baseball world’s pessimism of the job GM Omar Minaya has done to date, I think another part of the assumption dealt with that the Mets should give the fifth year if that’s what it took to land Bay.
New York has come off three absolutely miserable seasons. Two historic collapses followed by the Mets’ medical staff becoming a joke. This team is in need of a dramatic reversal, and fast, if it hopes to take advantage of the current window of opportunity. Said window was in desperate need of shoring up, with an additional source of power. The opening the club had in left field was rather fortuitous, as they can hide Bay’s defense in there and get the power expected out of the position.
Bay gives the Mets a playoff-caliber offense in these next few years, which may prove integral towards extending the Mets’ window of winning — and profiting. Is the potential trade off of a poor season from Bay in 2014 worth the boost the Mets will get the next three years? I can see that happening: if Bay propels the team to a playoff spot (of course, everyone has to get healthy as well) or two in the next three years, the ramifications of that will shake down far beyond just Bay. The Mets will become profitable, more players will want to come to town, and most importantly given Jose Reyes and David Wright, franchise cornerstones could elect to stay (to say nothing of the team’s financial ability to retain said players improving).
Not all deals can be evaluated in a vacuum like us pundits at THT, Fangraphs and other places tend to do. “This player is worth X WAR, and is thus worth Y money. He is not worth Z years due to M skillset and N indicators.” Real-world situations don’t work that way. The Mets needed a source of power to play left field, and they needed one now that could improve the team’s chances of winning. The trade off in not blinking on the five years and signing someone like Marlon Byrd or Randy Winn instead is rather large for this particular team.
Some deals involve having to give ground to get ground. I think the Mets did rather well in making the fifth year a vesting option. It may be easily attainable, but at least it’s not guaranteed. Not all deals can be completely and 100 percent “smart”.
Take Neal Huntington of the Nationals and his decision to free Matt Capps, only to see him sign for $3.5 million in Washington. This is opposed to the Pirates offering Capps arbitration and seeing the right-hander get a similar salary via the process (likely slightly higher). While the financial and market valuation of Capps via the arbitration process may have taken a bigger bite out of the Pirates coffers than they preferred, there is no question they are worse off today than they would have been otherwise. I wish I could recall who and where I heard this, but someone referred to Huntington as being “too smart.” That’s exactly how I feel.
Neal Huntington is a smart general manager and is making the Pirates a far better team than they were when he arrived. Whenever he leaves the team, he will do so having improved the club’s minor and major league talent. That is what smart general managers do. But was letting Capps go over half a million to a million dollars smart? Strictly from a dataset vacuum, it was absolutely the smart choice. Capps’ production in 2009, previous and projected production along with likely arbitration salary — in a vacuum — made the non-tender a logical and smart choice. In real life and in baseball, it was a terrible choice.
A fifth year being handed to Jason Bay is tremendously risky. The payoff over the next few years, however, seem almost guaranteed to make that fifth year an afterthought. Take Magglio Ordonez‘s $18 million option vesting for 2010. It’s hamstrung the Tigers in their decisions for 2010, but you certainly didn’t see the team complaining while Ordonez was scraping the team off it’s 119-loss season and propelling the club to the World Series. If they had to do it over again, would they have still signed Magglio to the deal or let him go to another team? I’m betting they’d do it again. The Mets are in a similar position, if not better — New York is not at risk for a complete financial collapse like Detroit. Without the financial collapse of the town, Ordonez’s $18 million albatross wouldn’t be as problematic as it is today.
A couple of other notes: I don’t think that this blocks prospect Fernando Martinez. Carlos Beltran’s contract is ending soon, and right field has no one blocking it. Plus, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bay eventually move to first base to hide his defense as the years move on. The Mets have Daniel Murphy currently slotted at first along with prospect Ike Davis, but the two, at this moment, don’t block a potential shift.