Don’t Give Up On Jason Bay

By The Common Man

The Common Man has been trying to wrap his head around the notion proposed by ESPN’s Matt Myers today.  In his kiss off to the Mets’ 2011 season, Myers suggested that the Mets should just release former All Star and MVP candidate, and current financial sink hole, Jason Bay. He writes,

“Bay’s recent revival could be the worst thing that could happen to the Mets, because it might actually give the front office enough reason to talk itself into keeping Bay around for the life of the contract.

Why is this a bad thing? Because as good as his past 140 plate appearances have been — and let’s be honest, they’re still not that good — we have another 700 PAs as a Met that suggest he is toast. Not to mention the fact much of the recent damage he is doing is against pitchers who were called up when rosters expanded on Sept. 1, and are of Triple-A caliber. Having lived through the Roberto Alomar experience, Mets fans are quite familiar with the idea that good players can suddenly lose it in their early 30s, which is what appears to have happened with Bay. And even if he somehow can manage an .800 OPS in 2012, the Mets are still better off without him.”

First, an important quibble: We don’t have “another 700 PAs as a Met” to judge Bay. Bay has only batted 493 times this year and has a total of 894 plate appearances in Queens. We have 401 PAs last year, following which Bay was sidelined for the rest of 2010 with a massive concussion. Prior to that head injury, Bay hit .267/.384/.537 for the Red Sox, which earned him his massive free agent deal. That’s just two seasons ago for a player who is still just 32 years old.

Before his concussion, there’s no doubt that Bay was disappointing (.259/.347/.402), but those numbers were largely sunk by a huge July swoon that dropped him from .275/.366/.442 at the start of the month, and that he never got a chance to bounce back from. His 2011 numbers (.248/.329/.381), meanwhile, are also disappointing, but should be taken with a grain of salt. For one thing, Bay started off behind, battling a strained intercostal muscle that kept him out of the Mets’ first 18 games.

In addition, as we’ve learned from watching the attempted recoveries of Corey Koskie, Justin Morneau, and Brian Roberts, concussions can have lingering effects that stretch into the ensuing seasons. While it’s certainly not guaranteed that Bay can make his way back from his head injury, it’s also not clear that additional time for his brain to heal won’t have a significant positive effect on Bay’s performance.

The Common Man doesn’t mean to be dismissive of the risks. Two years can be a long time, Bay is not young (though nor is he terribly old), and despite the uptick in overall awareness there is still much we don’t know about head injuries and their lingering effects in elite athletes. But even if Bay is not going to rise from the ashes of his former glory, Myers seems to think that the Mets can simply make the decision to dump Bay, even though he’s owed another $40 million. That’s a lot of money simply to flush down the toilet, to say nothing about how much the club will have to pay to replace him. Bay’s contract, risk, and ineffectiveness make him untradeable, but his compensation, even though that came at the hands of another GM, makes it impossible for Sandy Alderson to contemplate letting him walk, especially when there’s a chance for Bay to recover some of his value.

So why does Myers seem so keen on taking this course? Because of Lucas Duda. Myers writes,

“If the Mets keep Bay, he will stay in left field with Lucas Duda in right field. And while Bay is a poor defensive outfielder, Duda makes him look like Roberto Clemente. If the Mets are to compete for the wild card in 2012…they can’t do it with Bay and Duda in the same outfield.”

 Matt’s probably right. Duda is cheap and a good hitter, but he’s also a brutal defensive outfielder. And Bay, of course, is pretty immobile. But Duda’s also not irreplaceable. He’s essentially done growing as a hitter and he hasn’t shown the kind of power that is going to transform a lineup. He also has a large platoon split, hitting just .253/.289/.367 vs RHP LHP. He’s a good player, but a decent lefty bat who, given his age and contract status, has value around the league.

The Common Man will leave aside his objections to the notion that the Mets can outfight the Giants, Braves, Marlins, and Nationals for the Wild Card next year, though TCM has significant doubts. But, supposing they do want to compete, if they can’t play both Duda and Bay without risking an uprising in the pitching staff, and they can’t trade Bay, and to get rid of Bay would cost them $40 million, it seems the least wasteful course left is to trade Duda, who could be appealing to teams like the Twins, Rays, Orioles, or Mariners as they seek to rebuild their offenses and look for inexpensive DH options. Indeed, Duda is exactly the kind of prospect that the Mets should look into dealing, one whose skill set will be overvalued by the arbitration process once he becomes eligible, and who is fairly easy to replace.

Myers wants the Mets to have youth and cost control, but ignores the fact that Jason Bay’s costs are largely under control, and that his upside is likely higher than Duda’s as well. The money that the Mets are going to pay him is gone (aside from an option in 2014 that could vest if Bay recovers enough to get regular playing time). Duda’s not guaranteed to outplay Bay over the next couple years, and could bring in parts that can bulk up the Mets at other positions. The choice, to The Common Man, at least, seems clear. Don’t give up on Jason Bay just yet, especially when the real Jason Bay may still show up.