Jan 12, 2010

Prospect Valuation or Why Did We Sign Jason Bay For Such a Long Time?

This is a 2008 Prime Cuts card of Ike Davis. A "Phenom", if you will. He was the Mets 2008 1st round pick who has serious power potential, hitting 20 HR and 31 2B split between A and AA in 2009. A little worrisome is that he has been handled by LHP and had a high K% (29%) with a BB% (12%) that could use improvement, but that hasn't stopped a lot of power hitters from success in the MLB level (see: Ryan Howard and Jim Thome as extreme examples).

The Mets crave power; they need power. The power outage rolled through the major league club and what looked like a promising club at the outset of the season faded into the bright lights of summer. Daniel Murphy led the way with 12 HRs last year, David Wright struggled all season and ended with 10. Beltran and Delgado: hurt. Sheffield, Francoeur, and Tatis do not a potent offense make.

Enter Jason Bay. He has power (36 HRs and a .537 SLG). Has a decent batting eye (15% BB rate) with a high strikeout rate (25% K rate). He also plays left field...poorly and is 31 year olds. He has been signed for $66 million over 4 years...not a bad deal for a person of his skillset...if baseball were played in a vacuum.

However, baseball is a game in which context means plenty. He is going from a good hitting ballpark (Fenway) to a poor one (Citi) and from a short outfield to a spacious one. He's also going from a team with a lot of protection (Martinez, Youkilis, Ortiz) to one with less (Beltran, Wright, uncertain Delgado). He has not shown pronounced platoon splits or home/road splits before, so why the skepticism about the contract and signing?

There are three factors: state of the team, cost, and age.

1)The Mets are an incomplete team. They are not as good as the Phillies, Braves, or Marlins at this point. Jason Bay will not give them the production they need to overcome most of the shortfalls that they have. There are a lot of other weaknesses on the roster that are either coming off injury and have uncertainty attached to them or are just not reliable pieces. Examples of this are Castillo at 2B, Reyes at SS, Murphy/Francoeur in the OF, and the entire starting rotation except for Santana.

2)To that effect, the cost of $15 million per annum is reasonable on its face. However, it would be more economical and maybe even advantageous for the team to eat some of the sunk costs (Oliver Perez, anyone?) of the non-performing pieces and replace them with more cost-effective pieces. One prime example of this approach for a team with a similar budget has been the transformation of the Mariners since the end of 2008. They took a risk on some players (Russell Branyan) at minimum cost and concentrated on defense (Frankie Guitierrez) as the primary way to improve. Overpaying for relief pitchers would also be a practice left to others (see: JJ Putz, the remains of Billy Wagner, and K-Rod).

3)The other problem is that Bay has just left his prime years. He has pretty typical "old player" skills...good batting eye, power, no semblance of speed, that in many cases, portends a loss of production sometime during the course of the next 4 years. Also, the psychological effect of Citi field seems to affect even the best hitters (Wright/Beltran), though it's unclear how many HRs they actually lost by the ballpark on its own.

Will Ike Davis be a better player than Jason Bay in 2010?....no. Will he be more productive in 2014? Well, that's hard to say, but he could possibly offer a similar production at 1/20 of the cost. The Mets need to develop more Ike Davis/Fernando Martinez types to improve their fortunes within the next 3 years. Otherwise, unless they get no injuries from an old team, the best they can expect with their present team construction is to hope to challenge for a wild card spot.

This whole post was an excuse to showcase my first ever 2008 Prime Cuts autograph.

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