No one's debating that. But with Bay headed to New York for four years — where he's set to make $66 million guaranteed and looking at an option for a fifth season in 2014 — you have to look at the long-term ramifications of the Mets reeling in Bay.
What they're getting now is a top-of-the line free agent. No doubt about it. Bay gave the Red Sox 36 homers and 119 RBIs last season, he was a contender for MVP honors from wire to wire, and when he got hot, he was arguably the best hitter in baseball. With the kinds of numbers he put up against tough American League East pitching, the NL East hurlers had better run for cover.
A 40-homer, 120-RBI campaign for Bay next season is almost expected. At the moment, he's that good — and he's being paid to prove it.
But how will the Bay deal work out down the road? The Mets will be happy with him after next season — but what about three years down the road? What about five?
Jason Bay turned 31 toward the end of last season. He's a corner outfielder with plenty of pop, a little bit of speed and mediocre defensively — how well can a player of his ilk age? There are plenty of risks that come with taking on an aging Bay. And while he's not declining now, he just might start to do so down the road.
Take a look at the players historically similar to Bay. Ryan Klesko, Geoff Jenkins, Tim Salmon — what do you remember about these players? Did any of them have long, fruitful careers, staying productive deep into their thirties? Not exactly. And in fact, a couple of guys in Bay's mold are even known for bad contracts — there's Jim Edmonds, who was a complete bust in San Diego, and J.D. Drew, who has been productive in Boston but is often lambasted for being overpaid.
Could Bay turn out like one of these guys? Not right away, no. But four or five years is a long time. There's no guarantee that Bay will be worth the big bucks toward the tail end of his contract.
There's a lot driving Bay. A lot's motivating him to take his game to the next level. He's in New York not just for the money, but also to play for a winner — he tasted the postseason for the first time in Boston, and surely he wants more. If the Mets can stay healthy and keep their pitching staff intact next season, Bay could sniff October again. With a lot of luck, that World Series right might not elude him forever.
And as an individual, Bay's got to prove he can handle the pressure of the big stage. He's got a modest reputation — he's a quiet, unassuming guy from Canada who played most of his career as an unknown in Pittsburgh. The Big Apple will be a different experience altogether, and Bay's got to prove he can produce under the harsh scrutiny of New York.
The Mets will definitely get some mileage out of him. But down the road, you have to wonder — in 2014, when he's turning 36, will he still be the same?
Almost certainly, he won't.
The Red Sox let Bay walk because they couldn't sign him to a reasonable contract — a short-term deal that guarantees only the prime years he has left. The Sox are getting younger, and they're getting better in the long run — the Mets should be so lucky.