After posting his second consecutive subpar for the Mets, Jason Bay proved his lucrative $66 million, four-year deal was a complete bust. And even though Bay did see his homerun total double (from 6 homeruns to 12 homeruns), he also saw a decline in batting average (from .259 to .245), on-base percentage (from .347 to .329), slugging percentage (from .402 to .374), and ISO (from .144 to .128).
Bay has a guaranteed $35 million over the next two seasons (including his $3 million buyout for 2014), which makes him an incredibly difficult person to trade. However, despite how bad Bay’s contract is, there is a good chance the Mets could swap him for today’s “Bad Contract of the Day to Swap Jason Bay With,” pitcher John Lackey.
From 2003 to 2009, John Lackey was one of the more consistent number-two starters in baseball. During those seven seasons, the Los Angeles Angels pitcher owned a 3.83 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 2.77 K/BB in 1392.6 innings (about 199 innings per season). Arguably Lackey’s finest campaign was in 2007, when the righty raked-in 19 Wins, 3.01 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 3.44 K/BB. The starter’s high-shelf production placed him third in the American League CY Young voting, and also led to his sole All-Star appearance.
But like most pitchers, upon becoming a free agent, Lackey yearned for a contract granting him the most years (and money, of course). Like clockwork, the right-hander spurned the Angels, who had drafted him in 1999, and signed a lucrative five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox obviously liked Lackey, considering the pitcher owned a dominant 2.66 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 2.0 K/BB in four post-season games against the team. Coming off a 2009 season where only Josh Beckett and Jon Lester eclipsed the 150 innings mark, the Red Sox were desperate for a solid innings-eater like Lackey. However, according to recent reports, they only got a fried chicken eater.
Lackey’s first season in Boston was a little inconsistent. His overall 2010 stats were pretty solid (4.40 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2.17 K/BB), but were also below his pre-existing career averages (3.81 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 2.72 K/BB). The “bust” label he earned was also a tad unfair, considering he really only endured a bad April (4.50 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 1.42 K/BB) and May (5.17 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 1.00 K/BB). And after his dismal start, Lackey owned a respectable 4.22 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 2.88 K/BB the rest of the way. Given his elevated .319 BABIP and Lackey-esq 4.15 xFIP (career 4.08 xFIP), it seemed as though Lackey just had a tough first two months, and would make the right adjustments in 2011.
Unfortunately for Lackey, that was not the case. The 32 year-old exhibited his worst career season, hurling an ugly 6.41 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 1.93 K/BB, and leading the league in earned-runs (144) and hit-batsmen (19). His usually solid fastball was worth an incredibly horrendous -23.9 RAA, and his bread-and-butter curveball just -7.2 RAA. Lackey also saw his already diminishing strikeout skills take an even bigger hit (from 7.09 K/9 to 6.53 K/9 to 6.08 K/9), and he even lost his once good control (from 2.40 BB/9 to 3.01 BB/9 to 3.15 BB/9). As bad as Lackey’s 2011 season was, there were still a few peripherals that lessened the blow slightly. The starter’s extremely unlucky .339 BABIP most definitely fueled his extreme spike in hits (from 9.8 Hits/9 to 11.4 Hits/9), which in turned contributed to his gross ERA. This is also all supported by the righty’s bad yet not 6.41-ERA-bad 4.70 xFIP. Ironically enough, Lackey fooled more hitters in 2011 (31.6% non-strike swings) than he had since 2007 (31.7%).
Due to his more or less mediocre 2010 and pathetic 2011, most Red Sox fans want John Lackey off the team. While his peripherals suggest he’s not nearly as bad as his surface stats suggest, there is still no doubt that Lackey is not the same pitcher he was in 2009. Regardless of his regression, a Lackey for Jason Bay swap could make some inkling of sense for both teams. The Red Sox will see both right fielder J.D. Drew and designated hitter David Ortiz run off to free agency. With Bay’s experience and success in Boston not too long ago (.274/.380/.534 line with 45 homeruns, 156 RBI, 142 runs, and 16 stolen bases in 849 plate appearances between 2008 and 2009), slotting him in either vacant lineup hole could work given the dearth of respectable free agent options (Josh Willingham says, “What you talkin’ bout!”).
Assuming both parties would be interested in such a deal, the Red Sox would also have to kick the Mets some salary relief since Lackey will make a guaranteed $15.25 million in 2014 (whereas Bay does not). For those counting at home, this marks the very first “Bad Contract of the Day to Swap Jason Bay With” that actually makes conceivable sense.