Hot Stove 2010: How much to pay Bay?

Jason Bay has been waiting a long time for his big payday, and after an excellent 2009 season, he’s all set to cash in. I don’t blame the guy – how many chances does a guy have in his life to sign a contract worth $50-60M or more? Sports Illustrated has reported that Jason Bay has turned down a Red Sox offer of 4 years and “close to” $60M, and gone to free agency. Keep in mind that this report is from Jon Heyman, who Scott Boras routinely uses to achieve his ends; in this case, it seems he wants to drive up the market expectation for left fielders and his client Matt Holliday in particular. In Hot Stove double-talk, “close to” could mean anything, so I wouldn’t read too much into this. I, for one, certainly hope that the Red Sox will NOT go past this offer to Bay. Here’s why.

I’ve already written about Bay’s poor defense and his questionable outlook for the next 4-5 years. I am certain the Sox are not oblivious to this, and will hesitate to offer anything north of a three-year deal with an option. But I’ve also done an analysis on last year’s free agent signings, and here’s what I found: Jason Bay is not worth more than $15.1M per year on any deal going forward. That’s going rate, not value-based. I came up with that number using a pretty generous 3.2 expected WAR in 2010 as well as a generous 10% increase in free agent salaries from last year.

Going on what we might expect to actually get in terms of production, you might expect about 11 WAR out of Bay over the next four years (lose 10% WAR per year for aging), or you might end up with as little as 9.8 WAR over the life of the deal (subtract 0.5 WAR per season). That’s a lot of money for a guy who could be merely league average by year four. You could sign an average player every year on a one-year deal, and that plan would give you 7.2 WAR for roughly $34M over four years (assuming 10% inflation per year). So on a 4/$60M deal, to get 3.8 extra wins over four years, we’d be paying $26M, or $6.8M per extra win over an average player. Is that worthwhile to you, fellow Sox fans?

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