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January 5, 2010

Transaction Action

Installing a Bay by Queens

by Christina Kahrl

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NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed LF-R Jason Bay to a four-year, $63 million contract with a $17 million vesting/club option for 2014 ($3 million buyout); signed RHP R.A. Dickey, UT-L Russ Adams, INF-Rs Mike Cervenak and Andy Green, and OF-L Jesus Feliciano to minor-league contracts. [1/5]

So, it turns out the deal isn't really all that backloaded after all, because in his deal Bay got a signing bonus of $8.5 million on top of his first-year salary of $6.5 million, so his compensation for playing baseball in 2010 adds up to $15 million, with $16 million per the next three seasons, and then a club option that vests instead should he reach 500 PAs in both 2012 and 2013, or just 600 PAs in 2013. It adds up to an Average Annual Value of $16.5 million (because of the assumption that he'll get at least the 2014 buyout), so beyond whatever tax implications are involved, there's nothing that changes how the contract "looks" as a paid-to-play-baseball outlay. And he's covered by a full no-trade clause, which just gives him leverage should the whole Mets thing just get to be too much.

Which is lovely, but the question now becomes one of whether or not it's a good idea. There are any number of reasons to suggest it isn't, of course. There's the big expectation, which is that Bay's going to be a serious defensive liability starting yesterday. He certainly won't be an asset, but it's possible this has been overstated because, relative to Matt Holliday, he's just not as good as the other big-name left fielder available: his Plus/Minus marks have gotten better over the last three years, and suggest he's just not done a great job adjusting to the Green Monster, while doing fine coming in on balls. His FRAA2 has bounced from bad to horrific to adequate, while UZR sees a similar hump, going from bad to awful to still bad. You can take that as a suggestion he's ungood, perhaps bad enough to cost his club an aggregate win on the year, and perhaps not given how general fielding statistics can be. However, some chunk of his value in any of these metrics was distorted by playing in front of the Monster: it's easier to come in on balls hit in front of you, and it's easier to deter baserunning feats of derring-do when you're standing closer to the infield.

If Bay's slower to cover the gaps than most while having a gimpy Carlos Beltran to his left, that could lead to bad things for pitchers who put a lot of balls in play. It's not exactly the end of the world if, as the Yankees did deliberately with signing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett last winter, you have a good chunk of your rotation not depending on ball-in-play outcomes. Johan Santana, John Maine, and Oliver Perez all do better than most in this regard, while Mike Pelfrey's more of a ground-ball pitcher; maybe with that kind of front four in the rotation, Bay has less opportunity to hurt you, and in the immediate future has less opportunity to hurt you.

Which brings us to the really good stuff, the batsmanship that got Bay this contract in the first place. Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, last year involved several interesting little perturbations in his performance:

  • Fewer balls in play: Over the course of his six-year career as a big-league full-time player, Bay put a career-low 53 percent of his balls in play, almost 10 percent less frequently than he did in the two seasons previous. He also popped out more, which is interesting considering he was playing half his games in Fenway.
  • Striking out and walking more often: He set a career high in unintentional walk rate (14.2 percent) while reaching his highest strikeout rate since his rookie season.
  • His HR/FB rate spiked: Well, it did. To a career-high 17.3 percent.

That sounds like a TTO fantasy: more mashing or taking your base, and less bonking about with balls in play? Paging Rob Deer, we have a new graven image! OK, not quite, and to some extent a good amount of this could be league-based differences, as Bay had to generate his playing time with an extra dose of AL East rotations and against the tougher league in general. Maybe in the National League, he'll put the ball in play more often. That doesn't really sound like a good thing to me in Investment Banking Banditry Ballpark, however. The home-run rate's going to go down, and maybe the infield-fly rate drops, maybe not.

A trip to the weaker league is going to help sustain him against such things, but he's heading into his age-31 through age-34 seasons, and that's generally not a stretch associated with improvements. His performance record over the last four years has the dip associated with his knee injuries in 2007, as his EqAs ranged from .314 in '06 to .266 in '07 to .310 in '08 to .304 last year. Allowing for the knee issue having the impact it did, that seems pretty consistent, but tailing towards an incremental decline. Not to be too much of a book/spreadsheet tease, but PECOTA doesn't like what it's seeing, and throwing up top comparables like Dwight Evans, Jesse Barfield, Jim Rice, and Bernard Gilkey. Evans aged well deep into his 30s, and Rice retained good chunks of his fear factor after his age-30 season before getting a nasty case of the olds. Barfield and Gilkey suffered epic career failure shortly after their age-30 seasons. It likes Bay better than any of those guys, pegging him for a median EqA in the .290s, but is Dewey Evans without the defense really worth $16.5 million per year?

Obviously, in this market the answer's 'yes, for the Mets,' but that doesn't make it a good idea. It may well have been a necessary idea, and there's still the question of whether this gives them enough punch in a lineup that's still shy of a starting catcher, and has to mull the choice between the wrong Chris Carter and Danny Murphy at first base if they don't charm Carlos Delgado with a one-year make-good contract. Added to the wishful thinking that Jeff Francoeur is the answer for right field, this still looks like a lineup with holes, as dropping Bay in for Delgado on offense (for the sake of argument) doesn't radically improve matters from where they stood in 2008 (when Delgado delivered a .300 EqA), it just shores the core back up with a roughly equivalent player at a roughly equivalent salary.

Not that the market offered a solution beyond Zduriencik-level creativity via trades, but the Mets are still dependent upon health from Beltran and Jose Reyes. They certainly still can't afford to settle for their present solutions at first and right, and still have work to do if they're serious about avenging themselves upon the Phillies, let alone muting a Nelson Munz-like jeer from the Marlins. And if Bay ages well and isn't a menace to rotation regulars beyond the current crew, that would represent a modest surprise.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

30 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

dantroy

Great analyis. Adding Bay seems like the sort of non-imaginative mild overpay that would be acceptable for a big market team if it provided a good chance to make the playoffs in 2010 and 2011. The problem is that NYM's chances are so highly dependent on unknown factors, especially a return to health and maximum performance of guys like Beltran and Reyes.

I think Holliday would have made more sense, since he's likely to maintain good perfromance beyond 2011.

Jan 05, 2010 12:09 PM
rating: 3
 
shamah

What about the Beltre deal?

Jan 05, 2010 12:48 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Next up.

Jan 05, 2010 14:04 PM
 
ScottyB

I'll take Bay's .290s EQAs for the next 4 seasons, even with below average defense. Reyes, Castillo, Wright, Beltran, Bay, Francoeur, TBD, TBD, Pitcher is not elite, but it'll do.

Jan 05, 2010 13:35 PM
rating: 0
 
ElAngelo
(942)

The Mets were in a catch-22; they couldn't really afford to do nothing because their roster isn't good enough to win in 2010 as constituted before the Bay signing, but there was nobody on the market that was franchise-altering. They either had to overpay for someone that would be helpful (Bay) or blow it up and trade someone like Reyes or Wright.

Jan 05, 2010 13:41 PM
rating: 7
 
Tarakas

This is similar to the problem the Cardinals have. They have no adequate internal options for LF and little ability to trade. Signing Holliday to a long-term, big contract is going to end up looking really bad in a few years, but they need a good LF now. Is the better option a Dye or Damon on a 2-year deal? Or try to strike oil with a Branyan-type signing?

Christina's analysis is excellent as usual. Sometime, though, I'd like a piece on what teams should do in situations like this. It isn't clear. I look at the options of the Cardinals or the Mets to solve their LF problems, and I am glad I am not a MLB GM.

Jan 05, 2010 14:13 PM
rating: 7
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Let's see what we come up with for team-by-team problem-solving exercises. Whatever my title, I think I may still have some pull in-house. ;)

Jan 05, 2010 14:34 PM
 
Tarakas

That sounds great!

Jan 05, 2010 21:32 PM
rating: 0
 
coolpapabell

I agree. Holliday's length will not be palatable at the back end. I also think that the Mets would have had to over pay in the extreme to bring in Holliday. Heck, Holliday got seven years without an aggressive counter offer.

I think in a vacuum, Bay's deal is not all that great(not horrible either). Factoring the free agents available this year and next, while considering Matt Holliday's contract as the alternative, they made out pretty well. They are paying four/five years of which they will probably get at least two to three years of productivity.

I think the best outside-the-box move would have been Mike Cameron in leftfield. The Mets did talk to Cameron as a back-up option, but the Sox acted quickly.

Jan 06, 2010 09:06 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

aaaaah. i'm having nightmares of cameron and beltran colliding again!!!!!!!

Jan 07, 2010 12:49 PM
rating: 0
 
davezahniser
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I read this and all I can think is, "I miss Joe."

Jan 05, 2010 13:44 PM
rating: -44
 
ddrezner

I read this and all I can think is, "Thank you, BP, for enabling Christina to write more often."

Jan 05, 2010 14:11 PM
rating: 24
 
Yatchisin
(487)

Investment Banking Banditry Ballpark--just brilliant. I hereby start the campaign to always call CitiField "IBBB."

Jan 05, 2010 14:18 PM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

I've already come up with the name for Jason's fan club ...

The Bay Citi Rollers ...

(now let's hope he's not a one-hit wonder)

Jan 05, 2010 18:00 PM
rating: 4
 
brucegilsen
(999)

I came up with TARP field. A friend came up with Debbets field, which I like better.

Jan 09, 2010 17:56 PM
rating: 1
 
davezahniser
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

More often would be fine, but with less words, or at least smaller ones.

Jan 05, 2010 14:24 PM
rating: -29
 
vtadave

If you want smaller words, the Worldwide Leader has a site you should check out.

Jan 05, 2010 16:10 PM
rating: 13
 
eighteen

This reminds me of the Austrian Emperor's complaint that Mozart's music had too many notes.

Jan 06, 2010 11:36 AM
rating: 3
 
Rowen Bell

I love "Investment Banking Banditry Ballpark". Let's hope the name sticks. Reminiscent of "Hostile Takeover Bank" being Chick Hicks' sponsor in Pixar's Cars.

Jan 05, 2010 15:00 PM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

AP is reporting that Matt Holliday has signed a 7 year, $120m dollar deal, so Jason Bay for 4 years at $63m doesn't look like a half bad deal to me.

Jan 05, 2010 16:30 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

Its tough to make the argument that one team's desperation makes another's 'not half bad.'

Jan 05, 2010 18:32 PM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Christina ... may I piggy-back on your B-R.COM data hunting?
He compiled a .767 OPS against power pitchers last season, his worst mark since 2005. That includes batting .228 despite an absurd .362 BABIP against such pitchers. He also K'ed in nearly one out of every three ABs against those pitchers, a career worst. Is his bat slowing down already?
http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/G4TkU

Jan 05, 2010 18:30 PM
rating: 2
 
Patrick

What were the league averages against those pitchers, many of whom are likely the best in baseball? If the league as a whole had a .690 OPS against them, Bay looks pretty good, even if he is declining.

Jan 06, 2010 07:33 AM
rating: 1
 
dianagram

A fair question, Patrick.

AL hitters compiled a .243/.332/.389/.721 line against power pitchers, striking out in 21% of PAs.

Bay compiled a .228/.391/.376/.767 line against power pitchers, striking out in 32% of PAs.

So, his higher than league-avg. OPS was mainly walk-driven.

Jan 06, 2010 07:57 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

I'm a Bay fan but I was a Pedro fan too and I feel like the Mets have once again saved the Red Sox from themselves.

Jan 05, 2010 18:34 PM
rating: 1
 
Ogremace

Still, at 4 years and nothing ridiculous the Mets look good compared to the Cards. If it was gonna take 7 to land Holliday you have to go with Bay and if it burns you 1/4 or 2/5 years you have the money to deal with it. Hopefully. Except that its the Mets so they'll end up with 3 or 4 of those scenarios and be screwed.

Jan 05, 2010 22:50 PM
rating: 0
 
davezahniser
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Good analysis does not require big words.

I guess I'm bitter that Joe Sheehan's Prospectus Today was listed as one of the features I would get when I renewed my subscription . . . the day before Joe announced he was leaving. Surely BP knew before "the day before" that Joe was leaving and should not have been advertising his column, knowing that many subscriptions are renewed around Christmas time.

I guess I'm also bitter that my comments keep getting hidden. In the spirit of Joe Sheehan, all comments should be welcomed.

Jan 06, 2010 07:28 AM
rating: -9
 
Eddie

Perhaps if you would comment on the article in question rather than some personal agenda, they would not be voted down.

Jan 06, 2010 08:17 AM
rating: 13
 
tbookas

Here's a NYPost headline I hope I don't see after a loss this year: SOLD ON E-BAY

Jan 06, 2010 10:52 AM
rating: 1
 
Robotey

As a Met fan I want the Mets to be competitive again ASAP. The question is can this deal hurt them in 2011 and beyond by sapping the payroll of $16 million and a left field spot to fill. Luis Castillo's deal is a perfect example. If Omar signed him for one year at $10 million after 2007 then we'd have had Orlando Hudson for 2009. Instead we can't even grab the O-Dog for 2010 because the Castillo contract is an albatross. How will Bays deal play in 2 years? Some deals work--a la Beltran, some don't--Pedro.

Jan 06, 2010 15:22 PM
rating: 0
 
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