Should the Mets continue their alleged pursuit of free agent outfielder Jason Bay?

On the same day that the Mets made an offer to Bengie Molina the club also surprised many by making a competitive offer to Bay.  The wildcard is that the offer was structured (backloaded and only slightly above the offer he rejected from Boston) to make it extremely unlikely that Bay would accept.  Therefore, was the offer made in an attempt to get one of the top free agents or was it an exercise solely designed to trick the fan base into thinking the club was in the running?

Until/unless the Mets make another offer, we will not know.  In the meantime, let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of Bay.

Strengths

Set a career high last year in HR (36) and RBIs (119).

Draws a ton of walks and posts high OBP, including a .384 mark last season.

Is an excellent percentage basestealer, being safe on 13 of 16 attempts last year.

Weaknesses

Is a terrible defensive outfielder, one who may need to be a DH.

He struck out 30.5 percent of the time last year.

His 2009 HR/FB rate was above his career mark and his highest since 2004

Outlook

The Mets think he is better suited to play in Citi Field than Matt Holliday because he is more of a pull hitter.  Taking that at face value we still have to decide how likely Bay is to match last year’s home run total due to other factors.  Last year he hit fly balls 49.1 percent of the time, which was a personal best.  And when he did hit the ball it the air, Bay posted a 19.7 HR/FB rate, the second highest mark of his career.  Regardless of any impact from Citi Field, Bay is going to see a decline in his HR as he experiences regression in the above two metrics.

The big question with Bay is how to accurately value his defense.  Left field in Fenway Park is one of the toughest places both to play and also for defensive metrics to properly evaluate, given the Green Monster and the odd shape of the ballpark.  Bay had a UZR/150 of -11.2 last year, which ranked eighth out of 13 full-time left fielders in the majors, not a group particularly known for its fielding.

But Bay was a poor fielder even when he was with Pittsburgh.  He had a -11.4 UZR/150 in 2007, his last year with the Pirates.  Then in 105 games with Pittsburgh in 2008, Bay had a -14.4 UZR/150.  With the Mets likely to feature fly ball pitchers in Johan Santana, Oliver Perez and John Maine in their rotation, the club needs a good defensive outfield and it is very unlikely that Bay can even be average defensively at this point in his career.

With both Bay and Holliday on the market, we have to wonder why the Mets made an offer to Bay first.  Yes, he is likely to cost significantly less than Holliday.  But is he really a better fit for the club?  Or do the Mets not want to “insult” Holliday, a Scott Boras client?  The Mets and Boras generally have a good relationship.  This is another factor to consider if you believe that the offer to Bay was merely a PR move and not one they expected to bring the slugger to Queens.

However, let’s assume the offer was legitimate and that the Mets are willing to negotiate further to bring Bay aboard.  The question becomes: Is he better than Holliday?

As stated earlier, the Mets believe Bay will hit more HR because of his pull tendencies.  But Bay hit more HR than Holliday last year (36-24) and it was a toss-up as to who was the better offensive player.  Here are some comparisons from last season:

Jason Bay Matt Holliday
AVG .267 .314
OBP .384 .394
SLG .537 .515
wRC+ 142 144
wOBA .397 .390



Holliday’s numbers are dragged down by his time with the A’s, as he batted .286 with 11 HR in 346 AB with Oakland compared to .353 with 13 HR in 235 ABs with St. Louis.  Bay probably does have more power potential than Holliday, but it is likely nowhere near extreme as it was last season.

Three other things need to be mentioned with Holliday.  While Bay struck out over 30 percent of the time, Holliday posted a 17.4 K% last year, close to his career average of 18.7 percent in the category.  Also, while Bay is a butcher in the field, Holliday posted a 6.0 UZR/150, after being in double-digits the previous two seasons.  Many fans imagine the play where Holliday got hit in the mid-section after misjudging a ball but that is not an accurate picture of his defensive abilities.

Finally, Holliday is 16 months younger than Bay.

Bay is going to be cheaper than Holliday because Holliday is a better player.  Bay may provide more HR but Holliday’s total offensive contributions will be equal or better.  And once you factor defense into the equation, Holliday is likely to be worth a $20 million a year contract.  By WAR Holliday has been worth an average of nearly $29 million over the past three seasons.

Bay will be lucky to provide a value much over $15 million.  By WAR he has put up an average of $14.35 million over the past two seasons (he had a season marred by injury in 2007 and I thought it was unfair to include that in his calculation).

So, would you rather play $20 million per year to a player who has provided $29 million per year value or play $16 million to a player who has provided $14 million-plus of value?  Especially since the former player is the younger one?

I believe the Mets’ offer to Bay was for show purposes only.  It makes little sense to prefer Bay to Holliday, even given the extra money that Holliday will fetch on the open market.  But I would prefer a PR offer to Bay than a legitimate offer to Molina any day of the week.  Hopefully neither player winds up on the team and the Mets use the money more efficiently, either to add Holliday or John Lackey.

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