Over the course of the last week, as I’ve been watching Jason Bay pick right up where he left off as a struggling, overpaid left fielder, I began to ponder how in the world would be Mets be able to move his contract? Earlier this year, I wrote a pretty harsh critique of Bay, saying his time had come and gone in the mind of Mets fans. The patience any of us had left in regards to his performance and the hope that he would turn it around expired when he busted out of the gates off the DL to a tune of 0-for-12.
I began asking both my closest Mets fan friends (Ted Youngling, Brian May, Ryan Crofts) and two of my trusted collegues here atThe Waiver Wirewho aren’t Mets fans, but are huge baseball fans (Vinny Ginardi and Joe Binckes) one pivotal question:
Would you trade Jason Bay to the Chicago Cubs for Alfonso Soriano?
Contractually speaking, both players are in a very similar state of “Oh god, is that really what he has left?”. Soriano’s contract with the Cubs runs through the 2014 season at an annual rate of $18 million, which will make him 38 when it finally expires.
As for Bay, he is guaranteed to make $16 million in 2013, then has a vesting option that will automatically kick in for 2014 at $17 million if he either gets 500 at-bats in both 2012 and 2013, or if he reaches 600 at-bats in 2013 alone. Seeing how there is virtually no way for Bay to reach 500 at-bats this season (he currently has 68 with 101 games left to play), it would come down to how many at-bats he receives next season. Ideally in the eyes of Mets fans, Bay would get 0 and everything would be gravy. We all know that won’t be the case, especially if he shows any signs of life at some point this season. For comparisons sake, Bay had 638 at-bats in 151 games in his last year in Boston, and has had as many as 707 at-bats in a single season, so 600 seems completely plausible.
Let’s look at this trade from two different perspectives: one from a Cubs fan’s eyes, and one from a Mets fan’s eyes.
The Cubs fans that I know (my boss at WTOC is a huge Cubs fan), and arguably management, would do just about anything to get out from under the Soriano contract. It is crippling for the team, especially as they try to get younger and build for the future, all while being reletively non-competitive in the process. By trading Soriano, it wouldn’t only relieve them of big money, but it would allow the team to go ahead and move Bryan LaHair to the outfield and promote hot-hitting first base prospect Anthony Rizzo. The only player preventing that from happening is Soriano, who needs to play daily in Chicago to establish any kind of value moving forward.
If the Cubs were to acquire Bay, he probably wouldn’t start every day for them, but would get the bulk of the at-bats. You could make the case the Cubs could make a corresponding move to trade away David DeJesus, their current right fielder, for other spare parts in a situation where they import Bay, who would serve as the veteran voice on an incredibly young team. That way, LaHair could slot into right field as Bay takes over the majority of left field duties, with players like Reed Johnson and Tony Campana slotting in on a match-up basis. Also, with the Cubs focused on a youth movement, who’s to say Bay would come close to reaching 600 at-bats for them? A case can be made that he’s no better than a replacement level player currently, so he could see his playing time reduced in Chicago, allowing the Cubs to escape his vesting option and create an opening in left field a year sooner than if they kept Soriano.
However, the situation for Mets fans becomes a little more convoluted. There wasn’t a clear consensus as to whether this trade would benefit the Mets in the short-term or the long-term. If you were to only look at this trade at the “Will this help the Mets this year” angle, everybody I talked to would pull the trigger. Alfonso Soriano is still not the player he ever was with the Yankees, Rangers or his first couple of years with the Cubs. However, he is putting up some rather decent numbers this season, all things considered. He is sporting a triple-slash of .275/.321/.507 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI. He’s never going to wow people with his defense in left, and is below average by all standards, as opposed to Bay who can more than hold his own out in the field. Soriano is also a right-handed bat with power, something the Mets are in desperate need of considering how lefty-heavy their line-up already is.
Long-term, that’s where Mets fans become shaky. Two more years of Soriano and his diminishing skill set is a long, long time. Just ask any Cubs fan or front office staff member. However, unless something drastically changes in the Mets approach towards Jason Bay (basically, if he’s healthy, he plays), there is a very good chance his vesting option will indeed kick in after 2013. With that in mind, if a Mets fan had to choose between two more years of Jason Bay or Alfonso Soriano, my thinking is most fans (myself included) would take Soriano. Why? Soriano has played in New York before, and I can convince myself that he’d be rejuvenated by the bright lights of the big city and on a surprisingly competitive ballclub.
Also, similar to how the Cubs would owe Jason Bay nothing if they reduced his role on the team, same can be said for the Mets. If Soriano does fall back into his terrible old habits that have thrusted him onto the trading block, the Mets could make him a platoon-type player with either a Andres Torres or Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Its possible. And even if Soriano matched his 2011 totals for the two years after this (.244/.289/.469 with 26 home runs), at least he’s hitting for power and the Mets could slot him at the lower-half of the line-up. Right now, Jason Bay doesn’t offer anything to the Mets. He’s hit 21 home runs with the Mets over the course of 978 at-bats. That’s awful, anyway you paint it. Mets fans can live with a low average as long as you do something productive, and at least Soriano can put one out from time to time.
The real shame for Mets fans is that the solution for the team was just promoted to AAA Buffalo. Matt den Dekker looks like a real solid bat, having hit a stellar .340/.397/.563 with 33 extra base hits (most in AA) and plays a Gold Glove-caliber center field. The only thing that prohibits den Dekker from seeing Queens this year is his left-handed swing. His high strikeout rate really doesn’t scare me at all, because when he does make contact, its powerful. He has true 20/20 potential with a plus-plus defense in the outfield, skills that translate from Minor League to Major League playing fields. This is the same kid that the Mets gave serious consideration in Spring Training to the everyday job in center when Andres Torres went down with an injury, but elected to give him more finishing in the minors. Well, should he continue to mash in AAA, he’ll force his way onto this team at some point this season, especially if they remain in contention and continue to get nothing out of Torres and Bay. Had he been a right-handed hitter, he’d probably already be up and playing the outfield with Nieuwenhuis and Duda.
Nevertheless, while this is complete speculation and curiousity on my part, it speaks volumes that this is even being discussed amongst fans. Jason Bay has fallen so far in the realm of no return in the eyes of Mets fans that we would entertain the idea of a swap for Alfonso Soriano to get away from him.
Do I expect this trade to ever happen? No. I don’t see the Mets doing it and locking themselves into Soriano, even if it only added $3 million over two seasons to their payroll. I just don’t think the Mets want any part of an older player for that long under these circumstances. Would Soriano help the Mets in 2012 if they wanted to make the playoffs? No question.
Would anyone be better than Jason Bay at this point for the New York Mets?