The Mets parted ways with Jason Bay today, despite the fact that he is still owed almost $21 million from the four-year, $66 million deal he signed prior to the 2010 season (with an option for 2014). He never found his footing in New York, and can pretty much be considered a bust for the Mets after he battled injuries and performed poorly over three seasons. You know that things had to be bad for a team to essentially pay a player to play elsewhere. Now that the 34-year-old, right-handed outfielder is a free agent, he can sign with any team. As with any outfielder (particularly a right-handed one) that is breathing, it is only natural for Indians fans to think to themselves, “could this work?” Let’s take a look at Jason Bay and whether the Indians can hope to turn someone else’s trash into treasure.
Bay spent much of his early career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he hit .281/.375/.515 over the course of six seasons. He was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos, but was traded to the Mets (kind of ironic) as a minor leaguer and later to the Padres. He came to Pittsburgh in the 2003 Brian Giles trade and quickly established himself as a star on a team that lacked marquis players (particularly with the departure of Giles). As Bay crept closer to free agency, the Pirates decided to trade him in an attempt to replenish their battered minor league system. The Pirates received prospects from both the Dodgers and Red Sox, as Manny Ramirez left for Los Angeles and Bay went to Boston. Over the next season and a half with the Red Sox, Bay hit .274/.380/.534, gaining popularity with Boston fans and setting himself up for a big payday in free agency. His numbers took a sharp decline in New York, where he hit .234/.318/.369 with just 26 home runs in 986 at-bats; he also dealt with two separate concussions. (As a comparison, Bay hit 45 home runs in just 715 at-bats in Boston). In 2012 he played in just 70 games, hitting .165/.237/.299 with 8 home runs.
There are both pluses and minuses to the Indians signing Bay this offseason.
– Bay is likely to come cheap. If the Mets are already paying Bay’s hefty salary, teams may be able to cut a very inexpensive deal. This could end up being one of those low-risk, high-reward deals that the Indians like to negotiate.
– Represents a much-needed right-handed bat. I constantly feel like a broken record saying this, but the Indians still need right-handed bats, particularly bats with some degree of power. Throughout his career, he’s been a decent hitter against left-handed pitching, something that the Tribe’s lineup has struggled with.
– Worked with Terry Francona in Boston. Bay appeared to have a good relationship with Francona and may find a way to once again blossom under his leadership.
– Could benefit from a less hostile environment. Whether it’s fair or not, Bay often became the scapegoat in New York. When the Mets started to have their cash flow issues connected to the Bernie Madoff scandal, there was bitterness toward Bay’s extravagant (and seemingly unnecessary) contract. If you get him away from the bright lights and harsh media of New York, and put him with someone he knows (like Francona) it’s possible he could flourish.
– Power has all but disappeared. Bay hit 20+ home runs in six straight seasons, from 2004-2009. Once he reached New York, he never hit more than 12 home runs in a season (which he did in 2011). Could this be due to his injuries, or the influence of the harsh spotlight in New York? It’s entirely possible. It’s also entirely possible that the power never returns to 2009 levels, since Bay is almost four years older at this point.
– Concussions a concern. Any time a player has a concussion, nonetheless two, it’s a real concern. One only need to look at Justin Morneau’s post-concussion struggles in Minnesota, or even the fact that Carlos Santana didn’t bounce back right away from his concussion during the 2012 season. Morneau seemed more like his old self this past season, so recovery is obviously possible.
– We’ve seen this before. How many times have we seen the Indians take a chance on a player like Bay, only to see the whole plan fizzle before our eyes? This is also something reminiscent of the Indians’ experiences with Grady Sizemore over the past several years – taking a chance on someone hoping that the can return to some of their past glory. Bay was worth -1.3 WAR in 2012 and hasn’t had a WAR above 1.6 during his time in New York. (His WAR was 4.9 in his last season with Boston). Is this a position that the Indians can fill with any old replacement player? If so, is it even worth bothering with Bay?
A Bay signing is obviously a very unpredictable scenario, and there’s no way to know how this could turn out without the use of a crystal ball. This could be a situation where Bay thrives in a different environment and performs somewhere near his past numbers in Boston. This could also be a scenario similar to one the Indians saw in 2005 with Juan Gonzalez, where he had exactly one at-bat with the team before his career ended. I do know that I wouldn’t be opposed to this on a minor league deal with incentives, or even a major league deal with a low-base salary and incentives. As far as I’m concerned, everything should be under consideration this winter.