Jason Bay’s agent did not attend the GM Meetings in Chicago this week. No need.
Joe Urbon, who is the free-agent outfielder’s representative with CAA, had already had enough constructive conversations with major-league clubs about their interest in his client, and about Bay’s potential value to them, that a trip to the Windy City was unnecessary.
“We had enough productive traction with the multiple clubs that we assumed would be interested, and a few other additional clubs, even prior to the start of the meetings, that it made the most sense for efficiency’s sake and distraction’s sake to manage the process from our office here in [Los Angeles],” said Urbon. “It was pretty clear that there was a very specific but also general theme that we talked about, that was well-received by the clubs we talked to, at an early point in the process.”
Urbon’s message about Bay has been straightforward. He tried not merely to establish his client as the best available free-agent, but more broadly, as an outfielder who is as valuable as any in the game.
“I made the point to every club that I spoke with that, over the last five years, [Bay] has been the most durable and productive outfielder in the game,” Urbon relayed. “You’d get that pause. ‘Really?’ It’s a very accurate statement, and something I wanted to make clear.”
Urbon presents what he calls “a concise snapshot. … Here’s who Jason Bay is.”
The agent does so by giving context to Bay’s accomplishments over the last half-decade, comparing him to both the rest of the major leagues broadly and, more narrowly, to other outfielders.
Bay was an offensive force as a member of the Red Sox, just as he was while with the Pirates, with whom he broke in as a full-timer in a 2004 season he was named Rookie of the Year.
From the standpoint of consistent middle-of-the-order production on a year-in, year-out basis, Bay numbers among baseball’s elite. He is certainly at or near the top of the heap among outfielders in most traditional power and run production stats.
In the past five years, Bay is one of three players – along with Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Cardinals superhuman Albert Pujols – to turn in four seasons of 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs. Of those three, Bay is the only outfielder.
He is also the only outfielder to reach those levels in each of the past two years. He and Ryan Braun were the only two outfielders to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 in both 2008 and 2009.
Since 2005, Bay is the only player to rank among the top six outfielders in runs (503, 6th), homers (155, T-5th) and RBIs (514, 5th). He is sixth among active outfielders with an .892 OPS, and his .378 OBP ranks 10th among outfielders with at least 500 games played over that time.
This past year, he was third among major-league outfielders and first among A.L. outfielders with a .921 OPS. Bay ranks sixth among major-league outfielder in OPS over the last two years combined (.907), third among those who played at least 300 games.
In short, Bay’s credentials as one of the top producing outfielders in baseball are difficult to argue.
But Urbon suggests that Bay is even more valuable because he has demonstrated his ability to remain in the lineup over the years. Bay’s toughness is widely admired by teammates, and with good reason.
Over the last five years, Bay has played in 772 games, tied for the seventh most in the majors. Bay has also entered 765 of those games as an outfielder; only Ichiro (777) has played more games or more innings in the outfield during that time.
“Particularly now, when money is tight and you’ve got to be smart with your moves, consistency and durability are incredibly important,” said Urbon. “When you add that to being the most productive outfielder over the last five years, you’ve got a combination that creates a value.”
Urbon points out that his client is in a rare class of outfielders to avoid the disabled list over the past five seasons. He suggests that the only other everyday outfielders who have managed to remain on the active roster since 2005 without a single D.L. stint are Bay, Jermaine Dye, Bobby Abreu and Randy Winn.
“Everyone talks about Everyday J-Bay,” said Urbon. “But the fact that he’s one of four outfielders who has not been on the D.L. for a single day in the last five years is something that raises eyebrows.”
There is, the agent suggests, value in that kind of steady productivity. Teams that are going to offer a contract to one of the top free agents on the market this winter will no doubt have to swallow hard about the size of the investment. But Urbon suggests that Bay’s ability to stay on the field removes some of the risk from the equation.
Bay has been among the top producing outfielders in the game over the past five years. Urbon makes the case that the outfielder’s production level, combined with his ability to stay on the field, signfies a player whose ability to offer reliable return on a significant contract will not be an issue.
“It’s all about managing risk,” the agent said. “What [Bay] has to offer is exactly what [teams] are looking for when they’re looking to fill these holes and be safe with their investment, knowing that they’re going to have that rare and valuable combination of durability, consistency and productivity going forward.”
Bay did require surgery due to tendonitis in his right knee following the 2007 season – a campaign in which he played 145 games, but had his production impaired significantly. Across the board, Bay produced the worst numbers of his career that year.
But since the surgery that offseason, he has returned to roughly his pre-2007 offensive production levels. There has been no sign of recurrence of the injury since then.
Though Bay is now in his 30s – he turned 31 on Sept. 20, and is roughly 16 months older than Matt Holliday, the other premium free agent this offseason – Urbon suggests that there is no reason to be pessimistic about his future production.
“I have a hard time buying the argument that he or anyone who is 30 or 31 years old is old. If you tack on four or five years, that’s another story,” said Urbon. “He had his best year personally this year. And he did it in the toughest division in baseball.”
READY TO TEST THE WATERS, BUT OPEN TO A RETURN
Urbon said that he has remained in contact with the Red Sox since the end of the season. While he has talked with several teams who have expressed interest in the outfielder — who won the Silver Slugger Award as the top hitting left fielder in the American League on Thursday — the Sox currently have an exclusive window to discuss contract terms with Bay that runs through Nov. 19.
Come next Thursday, however, all 30 clubs are free to discuss years and dollars with Bay. Neither Urbon nor the Sox expect that an agreement will be reached before the close of that exclusive negotiating window. Even so, the agent suggests that the two sides plan to continue their conversations about a potential return if and when Bay starts negotiating with other clubs.
“There’s just as good a chance of Jason staying with his current club as there is with him going to any other club,” said Urbon. “We’ve had communication with Boston. I’ve spoken with [Sox GM Theo Epstein]. It’s been very candid.
“I think there is a sentiment from the club and from Jason and frankly from myself that we don’t see any reason why he won’t proceed to free agency. With that said, we don’t see any reason why we won’t continue to have open dialogue with the Red Sox, along with other clubs that are interested. We’re all on the same page with regards to that.”
Urbon declined to detail the clubs with whom he had been in conversation about Bay. Even so, he made clear that interest in Bay has been widespread, representing teams from both the American and National Leagues — a fact that would suggest that the market for the outfielder is not being impacted by concerns about his defense.
“Interest has been very well distributed between the two leagues,” said Urbon. “Not one club mentioned anything about [defense]. I think it becomes a talking point, because it’s worth talking about and dissecting and evaluating, but at the end of the day, his ability to play a consistent left field, clubs are well aware of it. I haven’t heard any issue or concern about whether or not the player can play defense in a bigger park, a smaller park, an East Coast park, a West Coast park. It really wasn’t an issue.”