In a few weeks, current Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay will hit free agency for the first time in his career. With 36 home runs and 117 RBI, Bay is putting together some lofty stats at an opportune time, but still, his season comes equipped with numerous warning signs. Although the Yanks have been one of many teams mentioned as interested, they should become involved with Bay only to drive up the price for the Red Sox.
Through the middle of 2008, Bay excelled in relative obscurity. A darling for fantasy team owners, he was a stand-out player on years’ worth of terrible Pirates teams. He left Pittsburgh with a .281/.375/.515 line in six seasons and 131 home runs to complement the 131 OPS+. Bay arrived in Boston as a key piece in the three-way trade that sent Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles and clearly had some big shoes to fill.
While not nearly as good as Manny — who is? — Bay has found success in Boston. Through 198 games, he has a 132 OPS+ and has hit 45 home runs. His triple slash line this season— .275/.382/.537 — is impressive, and more than a few teams will come a-knockin’ when he hits free agency this winter.
Earlier this week, MLB Trade Rumors summarized the state of the Bay sweepstakes. Alex Speier in Boston believes that the bidding could reach $14-$15 million for Bay and that the left fielder will receive at least four years. Speier feels that Boston return is a “legitimate possibility” but notes that at least seven teams — including the Yankees — could have the interest and money to sign Bay.
To which I say, “Pass.” Right now, Jason Bay is a productive middle-of-the-order hitter, but warning signs abound. The most obvious problem is his age. He is 31, and his free agent contract will cover his decline years. With that in mind, we turn to his defense. Right now, it is atrocious. He hasn’t had a positive UZR since 2006, and even in Fenway’s limited left field, he’s putting up a -12.3 mark this year. While he may be worth 34.3 offensive runs above average, he is 12.3 defensive runs below average. That number will just get worse as he gets older.
Also of concern are his strike outs. He has a career-high 159 strike outs in 60 fewer plate appearances than when he sruck out 156 times in 2006. As he ages, his bat speed will slow, and that total should continue to climb.
Now, don’t get me wrong; Jason Bay is a very good hitter. His power bat would profile nicely for Yankee Stadium. Considering, however, the costs, years, his age and defense, I can’t see the Yanks expressing much legitimate interest. If the Yanks can force Boston to overpay for Bay without landing Bay themselves, well, that is a decent off-season plan.