Last week, the Mets made the surprising move of buying out the final two years of beleaguered outfielder Jason Bay‘s contract. Anyone in the New York area, or a fan of the Mets, knows it has been a painful few years for Bay since his move to Flushing. After failing to duplicate the success he had on other teams, he has been consistently plagued by injury, not to mention an abject disaster both at the plate and in the field. No one can deny that Bay tried — that never seemed to be the issue. Rather, it seemed that, for lack of any other reason that Bay just lost “it.” By, “it,” I mean the ability of him as a baseball player to recapture any glory of his former years, be it because of age, or injury, or mental crash, or being the object of the ire of thousands of fans every single game (and in the papers, blogs, sports radio, etc.). Now, I realize this is a Yankees blog, so you might be asking yourself why the story of Jason Bay is even remotely relevant to the Yankees? Because, if you change just a few details — the numbers in the contract, the years owed and the name of the player/team- the story of Bay’s fall closely resembles that of a fellow player across the river, Alex Rodriguez. Bay’s recent and sudden end to his tenure in Queens could foreshadow the future for A-Rod.
At first blush, it may not seem that the situations are not all that comparable. Despite his big contract, Bay didn’t exactly have out-of-this-world numbers before calling Citi Field home. He did have respectable seasons in Pittsburgh and Boston, but nowhere near the caliber of Rodriguez. Prior to signing with the Mets, Bay had won a Silver Slugger, and had a couple of all-star appearances, as well as notching a National League Rookie of the Year Award. From 2003-2009 Bay batted .280/.376/.519.
By contrast, even before coming to the Yankees, A-Rod was a perennial All-Star and had already won an MVP, an American League batting title, and a couple of Gold Glove awards, not to mention a bunch of Silver Slugger awards. From 1994-2003, before the trade from Texas to New York, A-Rod batted .308/.382/.581. (Insert PED comment here. Yes, I get it, but this isn’t revisionist history. These things happened, why isn’t relevant for purposes of our discussion here.) Overall, based on the numbers, it would seem Alex had a much better career to the point where the contracts were signed, either with the Mets or Yankees, respectively.
It would also go without saying that Bay’s decline and lack of production was aided by the fact that he suffered multiple concussions over the last few years. It’s not like breaking a bone, letting it heal and working through timing issues. A concussion is a brain injury. And, getting several in such a short time — things like that tend to happen when one runs into a thinly padded wall made of concrete. Bay’s decline could certainly be traced back to the injuries. That said, Bay’s most steep decline has been over years 33 and 34. That isn’t particularly old when you see what guys like Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera have been able to accomplish at advanced ages. It also goes without saying that the reason such accomplishments are so special is because these two are the outliers, not the norm.
It could be possible that Bay’s concussions sped up the natural decline of him as a player, even if he may be on the younger side of decline. While A-Rod’s injuries aren’t necessarily of the same caliber (getting hit by a pitch isn’t the same thing as injuring your brain), it cannot be denied that over the last few years, A-Rod’s injuries have mounted as his production has declined. A-Rod’s injuries are also relative to his decline; the drop off in production from constant nagging injuries is qualitatively different from the drastic decline associated with a concussion. Alex’s injuries are also probably more directly related to his advanced age than the severity of injury. Despite the differences, it can be seen that both players have been drastically impacted by injuries, and it has led to significant decline in production from each.
An additional common denominator of the two players is that each player is owed a significant amount of money as production rapidly declines, due to age, injury, or some combination of the two (with the added mental health benefits of being excoriated by the local back pages and fan bases every time you pick up a bat in a game situation). Bay was bought out for roughly the entire $21 million balance he was owed through 2014. However, Bay’s contract was more financially palatable, and he had only up to two years left on the deal. By contrast, A-Rod is still owed roughly $100 million and will not be a free agent until 2018, when he will be 42 years old (and I will be almost 30, for what it’s worth).
The problem with Rodriguez, as opposed to Bay, is that his contract is so obscenely large that there is basically no way that there can be an effective buyout without reasonably paying A-Rod a ton of money to not play baseball for the Yankees. (On a personal note, I don’t blame players or agents, particularly Scott Boras for such mammoth contracts. If a player can get a deal like that, good for him, he should take it. He’d be foolish not to — you only play for so many years, and should max out your financial gain. I get that. I do, however, blame front offices for allowing this to be a trend, and shake my head at those who continue to hand these contracts out like candy, despite mounting examples that they will be more harm than good, especially since teams that aren’t spending nearly half that much, such as the Giants, are winning championships instead of the big-money teams.) I digress.
Given the amount of years, and the amount of money owed, it would probably take the Yankees at least $70 million to realistically buyout A-Rod if they decided to part ways right now (and pigs would promptly start flying over River Avenue). Moreover, the situation between the Mets and Bay was contingent on one key thing: both mutually agreeing that the relationship should end. Judging by Alex’s comments during the 2012 playoffs, where he maintained that if he was playing his best baseball, a benching wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion, it would seem that he thinks he has more in the tank than he realistically does, as does every aging player in any given sport. At least for the foreseeable future, and probably for at least the next two years, A-Rod will be a Yankee. How he’ll perform during that time will probably be a slow decline, and more of the same, but buying out three years, even on his deal, will be more realistic than as presently constituted.
Ultimately, the Mets have made a sound move. By letting go of Bay, it goes without saying that the team is taking a bit of a sucker punch in the short term. Let’s be real — $21 million is still a ton of money, even in a money-rich sport like baseball, and paying a sum like that to basically pay someone not to work for you is somewhat mind-boggling. But it does give them flexibility with respect toward their roster. I doubt the Mets will seriously contend soon, but freeing up a roster spot allows general manager Sandy Alderson and his team to assemble a roster in which all players are able to contribute positively toward making the team better.
As presently constituted, the Yankees have an immovable object that’s making far more money than remotely close to his production. A-Rod is still probably an average to above-average third baseman, but the problem is that, given the money owed to him and his declining production, he cannot be as easily bought out, or moved in any type of deal, not because the Yankees would be unwilling to eat the money, but because, realistically, no team would want him for the years left. It may not happen in the near future, but the Mets’ have given the Yankees a blueprint on how to handle Alex Rodriguez in their dealings with Jason Bay. Ultimately, the Yankees are in the business of winning, and, in the not-too-distance future, A-Rod will prohibit that, and he and the Yankees will have no choice but to part ways, regardless of the price.