Bay's fantasy value may drop with Mets
When your team hits the fewest home runs in baseball (95, 27 fewer than anyone else), there's only one thing to do: Sign the player who hit the ninth-most homers (36), the most among available free agents.
At least, that's the New York Mets' strategy. According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, the Mets and Jason Bay have agreed on a four-year, guaranteed $66 million contract, pending a physical that will take place next week. The deal includes a vesting fifth-year option -- presumably based on games or plate appearances -- that would push the value of the deal past $80 million, a strategy that makes sense when you consider the Mets suffered a barrage of unexpected injuries in 2009.
Not that the deal overall entirely makes sense. Bay's best asset is his power, as he's hit at least 30 homers in four of the past five seasons, but he's a defensive liability in left field. Neither of those things makes him an ideal fit for Citi Field, with its spacious outfield and high fences.
Consider that Bay's home run/fly ball percentage in 2009 was 19.7, while for his career it's 17. Citi Field, by comparison, saw home runs hit on only 8.6 percent of fly balls this past season, fourth-worst in baseball (only PNC Park, Kauffman Stadium and Turner Field were worse). Not that Bay should be classified in the same group as Daniel Murphy, Jeff Francoeur or Angel Pagan, who hit the most, third-most and fourth-most fly balls, respectively, of any Met and therefore were as responsible as anyone for the ballpark's low number, but to ask Bay to approach a home run/fly ball percentage of close to 20 at Citi Field is a stretch. More likely, he'll take a hit in the category, making another 30-homer season somewhat iffy.
Having a healthy Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, however, might keep Bay productive in terms of runs scored and RBIs. Plus, the Mets' reliance on stolen bases ensures Bay should be a good bet for another double-digit steals total. In the best-case scenario -- which Mets fans understandably might not be willing to bank on -- Bay might be a stronger candidate for a 20/20 (home runs/steals) campaign with 100 runs and RBIs than a 35-homer, 120-RBI season.
One thing to keep in mind, though: Whereas David Wright batted a solid .307 despite his high-strikeout ways (140 in 2009), Bay is far less likely to be able to adapt his swing to his new ballpark and increase his batting average. He's a .280 career hitter who has averaged one strikeout per 3.70 at-bats, whereas Wright's career numbers in those categories are .309 and 4.98, respectively. Bay might be able to bat .280 (or a few points better), but fantasy owners shouldn't be banking on anything more than a (fantasy) league-average number in that category, limiting his appeal somewhat.
Overall, I'd lower Bay's draft-day ranking as a result of his arrival in New York. The downside is greater for him accounting for the ballpark factor than it might have been in any other place but San Diego, and while I had him 35th overall in my top 200 rankings, he belongs more in the range of Adam Dunn, Carlos Lee and Andre Ethier, who all ranked near the 60s. That keeps Bay among the top 20 outfielders, but more in the teens than as a candidate for the top 10.
Bay's defense is another factor to keep in mind when scouting Mets pitchers. As Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information points out, Bay ranked 18th among 29 left fielders with at least 500 innings in ultimate zone rating per 150 games, at minus-11.2, according to Fangraphs.com. It was the third consecutive season he finished below average, and remember, with spacious outfields at Citi Field comes more ground for outfielders to cover. Considering Johan Santana, John Maine and Oliver Perez all have been noted fly ballers, allowing fly balls on more than 40 percent of their career batted balls, each might suffer a slight hit in terms of ERA and WHIP. It shouldn't be enough to significantly diminish their draft potential -- if Perez is appealing at all -- but it's something to keep in mind when faced with difficult decisions between two similarly valued starters.