There is no doubt in my mind that Jason Bay can be a very productive player. He's proven that time and time again. Since 2004, Bay has hit at least 20 home runs in every season and four times he's hit more than 30 home runs in a season. Bay has developed into a very potent power hitter over the years and a very capable bat in the middle of any order.
What's clear is that Bay is going to get paid...in a big way. However, the amount is very much up in the air. It all depends on how teams view Bay. Is he just a good player or is Bay a potentially great player, who you can build a team around? That question could be the difference between Bay earning the big money or the VERY big money.
The Case for Bay
-I've got the power!
Bay currently ranks 6th in the American League in home runs with 30 and has hit at least 25 home runs five times in his career and has never hit less than 20 home runs in any full season.
Bay has been phenomenal this season with runners in scoring position. In 118 at bats with runners in scoring position in 2009, Bay is hitting a ridiculous .331 with 9 home runs, 65 RBI, and more walks (32) than strikeouts (29).
-Middle of the order...
When you think of a productive middle of the order hitter, you think of a guy who can hit with power, drive in runs, and get on base. As we just proved, Bay can hit for power. And you know what, Bay can drive in runs and get on base with the best of them. Bay has driven in 96 runs already this season, which puts him on pace to drive in around 115-120 and he's already drawn 84 walks, which has helped lead to his impressive .383 OBP. Lots of good stuff here.
-Hits both lefties and righties
One of the most fascinating things that I found out about Jason Bay is that his career average against left handed pitchers and right handed pitchers is identical: .279. While that number can be somewhat deceiving, it does confirm the fact that Bay does indeed rake, no matter what arm the pitcher throws with.
The Case against Bay
According to fangraphs, Bay went from being a average left fielder in 2006, to a pretty bad one in the years that followed. In each of the past three years, Bay's UZR/150 in left has been at least -11.4, which would make him consistently one of the worst everyday left fielders in baseball. In addition, Bay's range seems to be rapidly deteriorating: 3.3 in 2006, -8.9 in 2007, -14.6 in 2008. and -18.5 in 2009. Not good.
This is one area that has to concern interested teams. From 2004-2006, Bay never hit lower than .282 in any season and looked like a guy, who might be able to hit .290-.300 perennially. However, from 2007-2009, Bay has only hit above .280 once (2008), and could wind up batting around .250 in 2009. So which is the real Jason Bay that teams can expect? The Jason Bay that hits .280-.290 every season or the Jason Bay that hits a very mediocre .250? How teams answer that question could be the difference in how much money Bay rakes in this offseason.
Even though there are number of quality free agent corner OFs this season, the only two that really stand out as potential building blocks are Bay and Matt Holliday. However, at this point in the season, it looks like Holliday has separated himself from Bay with his ridiculous play since being traded to St. Louis.
But there are two positive ways for the Bay camp to spin this:
1. Matt Holliday could simply re-sign with the Cardinals, which would open the market up for Bay
2. Matt Holliday and Scott Boras could price themselves out of the market because of Holliday's performance, which could make Jason Bay the attractive, more affordable player.
Elias Ranking: Type A
I expect the Red Sox to offer Bay arbitration...there's no reason why they shouldn't.
(rankings courtesy of MLBTR)
(5 years/$75 million)
Here are some comparable contracts:
Manny Ramirez (2 years/$45 million)
Alex Rios (7 years/$69.83 million)
Jose Guillen (3 years/$36 million)
Carlos Lee (6 years/$100 million)
Torii Hunter (5 years/$90 million)
I think Bay will get paid handsomely this offseason, but when you look at the names and contract sizes of the comparable contracts, you have to ask yourself: is Bay really in that class? Aside from Alex Rios and Jose Guillen, I'd have to say no. But make no mistake about it: 5 years and $15 million per season is quite a commitment in this economy.
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