Well, after a post-trade-deadline honeymoon and one full season patrolling the area in front of the Green Monster, Bay vaulted for Queens, signing a four-year $66 million contract with the Mets. At the time it was kind of a surprise the Red Sox didn’t make a stronger effort to retain Bay, as he was a popular player with a proven track record who had fit well in Fenway Park. Moreover, in the 2009-10 offseason the market had fallen out from under Bay, with his deal dwarfed by fellow left fielder Matt Holiday‘s seven-year, $120 million agreement.
In the three years since, however, Bay’s production seems to have justified the relatively undervalued contract that he initially signed. In short, Bay just hasn’t been good at all during his time with the Mets, as he owned a .687 OPS over just 288 games.
So, with a report emerging that the Red Sox had checked in on Bay as a potential outfield depth signing, the reaction of many fans will likely be that Bay is a relic of the past and not worth any sort of investment. That being said, when looking at some of the mitigating circumstances that led to Bay’s downfall, and the undoubtedly small commitment it would likely take to bring him aboard, the prevailing wisdom should be: Why not?
In one sense, there’s no way to dress up Bay’s numbers with the Mets, which were plainly awful as his already-suspect defense continued to decline. However, the chances are that the market for Bay will yield nothing more than a non-guaranteed minor league contract and a Spring Training invitation, which is what could make him attractive. To take a chance on Bay, there’s likely going to be little to no risk involved.
On the flip side of the coin, there are a couple reasons to think that Bay could return to being a productive baseball player, even if he doesn’t again repeat the .921 OPS season he enjoyed with the Sox in 2009.
The most obvious mitigating factor over Bay’s last three seasons are the injuries. Each season he’s suffered one fairly severe injury — in 2010 it was a concussion, and in 2011 and 2012 it was broken ribs in separate incidents. The 2010 concussion knocked Bay out for the rest of the season, and prior to that point he wasn’t performing well. However, it was his first major free-agent contract, and pressure may have been an issue.
Likewise, rib injuries are infamously a detriment to hitters, on par with wrist injuries. Pain in the midsection makes it difficult for hitters to get as much torque in their swings, sapping power and making it difficult to reach pitches on certain parts of the plate.
It would also be tempting to blame Bay’s struggles on the extreme pitchers’ environment of Citi Field, but the zany thing is that Bay consistently put up better number in that cavernous park than he did on the road. During 2010 and 2011 Bay posted home OPS figures of .830 and .799 while matching those with .680 and .618 marks on the road, respectively. While those aren’t the peripheral numbers you’d expect, what it means is that it wasn’t all that long ago Bay was still a productive player at home — in a ballpark that hugely suppresses offense.
But again, is Bay a worthwhile gamble for the Red Sox? The answer is still “why not?” — depending on price, of course. The thing is, Bay isn’t even the only injury-derailed former star-caliber outfielder on this winter’s market, as Grady Sizemore joins him in that category. Moreover, the outfield is the only place on the market where there’s relative depth, so there’s no premium on a player like Bay.
So, for someone who’s likely to receive little more than a Spring Training invitation (or, at best, a one-year incentive-laden deal) to showcase his skills, the question isn’t why the Red Sox should take a gamble on Bay, but why shouldn’t they?