Keeping The Wolf At Bay

So, Omar Minaya finally accomplished something this offseason besides acquiring Henry Blanco, RA Dickey and…I dunno, working on his Soduku game or something.
Regarding the Mets’ signing of Jason Bay yesterday, let me start by getting this out of the way: I have a bad feeling that this is not going to work out well at all. I have no rational basis for that whatsoever – maybe it’s just a hangover from George Foster and Bobby Bonilla (granted, both of whom had some good years with the Mets). But with that out of the way, let’s look at this rationally.
Bay will be 31 next season, 34 when he finishes the fourth guaranteed season of the 4-year-$66 million deal (an average of $16.5 million per year), and 35 when the Mets will pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million for a fifth year he can qualify for by meeting certain benchmarks (details are unclear, but it sounds like Bay will get the fifth year if he stays healthy). That’s a lot of money, but for a team with the Mets’ market, it shouldn’t be a budget-buster.
What were the options? The Mets had no credible left fielder last year except when Gary Sheffield was hitting well, and you couldn’t bring back Sheffield as a long-term solution. The Mets could have focused on a first baseman, but – more on this below – they presumably prefer to keep open the option of bringing back Carlos Delgado rather than a similarly risky left fielder. And rebuilding remains a non-option: Santana, Beltran and K-Rod are all going to be in their primes for only a few more years, so the team still needs to look to compete seriously no later than 2011.
With Hideki Matsui signed, Matt Holliday, Vlad Guerrero and Johnny Damon are the other choices on the free agent market (the Mets’ minor league cupboard being thin, they would prefer a free agent to trading for, say, Adam Dunn). Guerrero remains a very dangerous hitter (.309/.373/.515, OPS+ of 130 the last three seasons), but he’ll be 35 next season, has a history of back trouble, missed a third of the season in 2009 and his ability to play the field is questionable. Damon’s 36, has no arm, is a less dangerous power threat (.285/.364/.449, 114 OPS+), and hit 17 of his 24 homers last year at home. Holliday is a better player than Bay: he’s a year younger, more athletic, a significantly better glove, and as a hitter he comes out ahead over the last three seasons, .325/.403/.555 143 OPS+ to .267/.362/.493 121 OPS+, thanks in large part to Bay’s crummy 2007 season (and in the raw numbers, to Coors Field). They’re similarly durable – Bay’s missed 35 games the last 3 years, Holliday 33. Holliday runs a bit more, but neither is a big base thief and Bay’s a career 82.5% base thief to 76.9% for Holliday. Over their careers, Holliday’s OPS+ is 133, Bay’s is 131. Significantly, Bay’s a career .278/.366/.532 hitter on the road, Holliday .284/.353/.454.
So, while Holliday is probably a better bet, his salary demands are outrageous – I’m seeing numbers thrown around like 8 years and $18 million a year. He’s not that much better.
One difference between Bay and some of the Mets’ less successful imports is that he won’t be expected to be the star of the show – Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Santana and K-Rod all remain bigger names. And assuming Reyes is healthy, adding Bay’s power-and-patience bat to Wright, Reyes, and Beltran immediately makes it more sensible to bring back Delgado to join with (ugh) Jeff Francouer to give you a series of power hitters in the middle of the order (I expect Francouer to revert to a middle-ground .280/.310/.470 type season this year, the value of which depends heavily on how many other guys in the lineup are on base).
As for Delgado, it appears he’s had some offseason setbacks, so bringing him back may be a less certain proposition. But strategically, the Bay deal at least makes it a more sensible option to consider.
UPDATE: Rob Neyer looks at how the Bay signing is emblematic of the Mets’ lack of a farm system and consequent reliance on veteran free agents (a problem they might have had less of if they hadn’t dealt Bay for Steve Reed in 2002). All of that is true and very much Omar Minaya’s fault – they allocation of too few resources to signing young talent is especially galling – but it doesn’t really detract from the fact that if that’s the fix you’re in, signing Bay makes sense and rebuilding in the middle of the Beltran, Santana, K-Rod, Wright and Reyes contracts (not to mention the Castillo and Ollie Perez albatrosses) doesn’t.

8 thoughts on “Keeping The Wolf At Bay”

  1. Jason Bay is a good guy and a good ballplayer. No question on either count. That being said I was very happy they did not re-sign him for the money the Sox offered (4 years, $60 million) and super-happy there was no fifth year in there for a 35 year-old left-fielder.
    The upsides for you Mets’ fans: He can legitimately hit regardless of park. He is an amazing fastball hitter. He’s not as bad an outfielder as sabermetric geeks would have you believe.
    The downsides for you Mets’ fans: He strikes out a lot (162 times last year). He cannot, I repeat CANNOT, hit a slider. He’s by no means a terrific defensive outfielder and I would be nervous about the size of your ballpark’s left field versus Fenway’s and his ability to effectively patrol it.
    The big thing to me though is that you don’t really need him. Even with the addition of his bat to the line-up the Mets are not in the league of the Phillies’ more productive line-up. He doesn’t make you better defensively and he sure as hell does not make your pitching better. He will likely have nice 2010 and 2011 seasons and then when the tail-off begins what are you going to do with him? The direction the Sox have gone is run-prevention as the offense that was available (Bay, Holliday, Damon, etc.) was mostly over-valued and/or old. There is no way at this juncture to keep pace with the Yankees offense. The only way to beat them in the long-run is to try and out-pitch and defense them. I think the same is true with the Mets-Phillies situation. You have invested a ton of money into a nice hitter but not a “scare the bejeezus out of other teams when he’s hot” hitter. This will surely come at the expense of other talent in the future.
    You’ve got yourself a nice ballplayer. What he does to change the Mets I am not sure and I think this contract will stink like old fish in 3 years. Maybe you should have kept him back in the day rather than trading him for a pu pu platter of nothing to the Padres. You could have reaped his best years rather than trying to salvage the last few. Although I guess you Mets fans are all used to that at this point.

  2. As a Pirates fan, I have followed Bay through his best years-which are behind him. He is a sub-average defensive player who used to hit for both power and average. He could run once (22of 23 SB in one year), but not now. He does fan alot with guys in scoring position.
    He was never a leader on the Bucs, so don’t count on him to do anything but showup, play his best, and keep quiet. That might be all the Mets want from him.
    While he is not worth the $s to the Bucs, I think the Mets did a good thing in signing him. He will help your team for 2-3 years. He will plug the LF spot for now. I like the idea of moving him to 1B in 2 years.
    Lastly, he is a nice guy. I hope NY does not screw him up.

  3. What’s the projected lineup at this point? Reyes, Castillo, Wright, Beltran, Bay, Francoer, Murphy, Santos? (potentially substituting Delgado for Murph and Benji for Santos?)

  4. I largely agree with Jim. Bay seems like a good guy who will show up every day and play hard. He was, also, better than I had thought him to be. He shold benefit from going back to the NL, but it will be interesting to see if he can put up numbers in Citi. In 2009, he had more homers (21 – 15) on the road than in Fenway, but fewer doubles (18 – 11) and RBI (64 – 55).

  5. I think the point of the swipe at Castillo is that he is a 34 year-old second baseman with no power (16 extra-base hits last year), who is sub-par at this point defensively yet gets paid over $6 million/year and has 2 years left on his contract. The contract is the albatros. No one would ever take the guy in any kind of a deal other than a totally one-sided trade so you’re stuck with an aging 2Bman who makes way more than he should (he makes 3x what Dustin Pedroia makes) who is likely to see his already average play (98 OPS+) diminish over the next two years. Hopefully A-Rod won’t hit him too many more game-ending pop-ups.

  6. Anyone who thinks Matt Holiday is a better defensive player than Jason Bay has never watched a baseball game played by either. Get your nose out of notebooks and watch the actual game, Holiday is an absolute BUTCHER in the outfield.

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