Jason Bay, Mets break up

Hunter Martin

I can't remember ever seeing something like this in baseball -- former Pirates slugger Jason Bay and the Mets agreed to end his contract early. Bay had one year and $16 million remaining on his contract, plus a $3 million buyout on his 2014 option. Right now, it's not known how much of that $19 million the Mets will have to pay. In any case, Bay is a free agent now.

Bay didn't have a single good year with the Mets, and 2012 was outright bad -- he got 194 at bats and hit .165 with eight homers and a remarkable two doubles. He's now 34, and given that he was never a very good bet to age well, I can't imagine the market for him will be especially robust.

Speaking of Bay not aging well, here's what I wrote in 2008:

This isn't to say that Neal Huntington didn't trade Bay at the right time, however. The career of Bobby Higginson is still a cautionary tale. Higginson posted an 88 OPS+ in an injury-plagued age-28 season in 1999, just as Bay had an injury-plagued age-28 season in '07. Higginson then bounced back and hit well for two more years, after which the Tigers signed him to a four-year, $35 million contract. Higginson's skills promptly eroded and the contract turned out to be a colossal waste of money.

Bay and his agent might have been amenable to signing another extension with Pittsburgh, but the chances are good that would have been a mess--maybe not a mess on a Higginson-type scale, but Higginson's and Bay's careers parallel eerily, and their skill sets are relatively similar.

The Bay/Higginson parallels have gone from eerie to just plain weird. As I note above, the two players had similarly disappointing, injury-dominated age-28 seasons, then re-established their value with strong seasons at age 29. Both had solid age-30 seasons as well. And then, both of them signed four-year contracts that kicked in starting with their age-31 seasons. Both those extensions turned out horribly -- they were characterized by anemic hitting and below-average defensive performances. Higginson was out of the majors for good before his 35th birthday. That could well happen to Bay as well.

Bay and Higginson were both really good players, and barring a miracle turnaround for Bay, I'll remember him as one of the three or four best Pirates of the last two decades. But his recent career has been awful, and I'm very, very glad he didn't play them out in Pittsburgh -- there were some commentators back in 2008 who thought the Pirates should have signed Bay to an extension. It's very clear that you shouldn't sign aging, injury-prone outfielders who can't play defense to four-year contracts.

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