Yesterday, the New York Mets released Jason Bay. It was a long time coming. Bay will be paid the remaining $21 million due to him, and he must be paid it by summer of next year. However, the Mets will be free to pursue another outfielder. But what about Bay? For those San Diego Padres fans, Pittsburgh Pirates fans, Boston Red Sox fans, and Mets fans holding their bloodied heads after beating them against the wall, we will seek to find the right fit for Jason Bay.
Much like the moment in Apollo 13 when the crew in Houston is trying to retrofit a device to eliminate the carbon dioxide buildup in the ship, people around baseball are trying to figure out how to make Jason Bay work. It's not a simple solution. It's a solution that will take team work, ingenuity, and innovation. He has been a relative disappointment in his career, and he has battled injuries. But is it possible, he has simply not been placed in a position that will allow him to succeed.
In 10 seasons, Bay has hit .269/.363/.485. He has hit 211 home runs. For most people, this would be an admirable career. For Bay, though, it's a disappointment. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 22nd round of the 2000 draft. He never made it to the Expos' big league team. He was traded to the Mets, and still didn't make it to the majors before being traded again. The Mets traded him to the Padres, and in 2003, Bay finally made his Major League debut.
Bay's real hype did not begin until one year later - his first full season in the Majors. In 2004, Bay hit .282/.358/.550 with 26 home runs. Bay won the National League Rookie of the Year that season, and suddenly his hype was through the roof. After six seasons of above-average play in Pittsburgh, Bay was traded to the Red Sox as part of a blockbuster three-team deal. The Red Sox thought they were getting a superstar in the making, while the Pirates were able to avoid paying the contract of a future superstar. Unfortunately, Bay's best years appeared to be behind him.
In Boston, a total of two seasons, Bay regressed in the department of batting average. He hit .274/.380/.534. The biggest problem was injuries. Bay played in 151 games in 2009. Not bad, but not great. It was a sign of things to come.
The Red Sox allowed Bay to walk via free agency, and the Mets scooped him up. Things got bad from there on. He spent three seasons in New York and hit .234/.318/.369. Worst of all, Bay's injuries kept him off the field more and more. He made $58.75 million in New York over three seasons while failing to appear in even 100 games in two of those years. Over all, he appeared in just 288 games.
Now, people question Bay's durability. They question his ability to get back on track and contribute on a regular basis. And these concerns lead to the possibility that Bay may not get a fully guaranteed deal from any team. Whatever team decides to sign him will likely lace the contract full of incentives. For Bay, an incentive based contract is fine, but he should be focused on finding a team with a world-class medical staff.
Health is the league's current market inefficiency. Teams with great medical staffs that can help ensure their players stay on the field, rise above the rest. They give their players the best opportunity to shine. For Bay, this is important. When he's healthy, he is productive. At 34 years old, he has plenty of time left to contribute in Major League Baseball, but he'll need some help.
The team that could help Bay the most also happens to be a team that could use Bay's help. The Cincinnati Reds won the 2012 Dick Martin Award. The award, according to Jeff Stotts of Rotowire, gives credit to the team with the best medical staff in baseball. The designation is based on numerous categories including days lost and injury cost.
The Reds medical staff excelled at maintaining the health of a team evenly balanced with veteran and young players. Even when injuries did occur they showed an impressive ability to properly manage the player, providing ample time for recovery while ensuring the team remained competitive.
The Reds clearly have a great medical staff which would bode well for a player like Bay. For players with a propensity for injury, proper precautionary activities can ensure the player stays on the field. This may be something Bay needs, but if he was injured, the Reds staff would know what it would take to get him back to his best and get him there fast. And as it happens, the Reds may be in the market for an outfielder.
Ryan Ludwick declined his $5 million option with the Reds and elected to become a free agent. He still may return to Cincinnati, but he is free to shop around. The Reds may decide to take a risk and go after someone like Bay. But Bay would be a substantial risk. The Reds are not in a position to risk productivity at a key spot on the field. They had the best record in baseball in 2012, and they want to build on that. A misfire with a free agent signing can cost them. However, if Bay gets healthy and produces at the levels he did for Boston or Pittsburgh, the Reds would have a player as productive or more productive than Ludwick for presumably much less.
While Bay comes with a stigma attached to him because of his injuries, the Reds may want to take a close look at him now that he is available. If they feel their medical staff can keep him healthy and keep him on the field, there is no reason to think Bay can't get back to where he was before going to New York.
It could be a match made in heaven...or it could be a nightmare.
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