Yesterday, Stan Chrapowicki of the Daily News took up the idea that the Mets and Yankees should trade Jason Bay for A.J. Burnett, suggesting that it makes sense for both teams. He asks the reader to imagine what Bay and Burnett could do if they swapped ballparks and leagues. Chrapowicki also writes that trading the two players makes economic for both teams since the years and dollars remaining on their contracts are the same: two years, $32 million. Does a "change of scenery" trade make sense, though?
It's important to consider the correct details of Jason Bay's contract before looking at the financial commitments involved in the trade. Thanks to another Omar Minaya vesting option, Bay will earn a guaranteed $17 million in 2014 if he gets 600 plate appearances in 2013 or 500 plate apperances in both 2012 and 2013. If he doesn't get the plate appearances to trigger the option, he would be owed $3 million to buy out the option year.
Despite the fact that the Yankees lead baseball in payroll on an annual basis, Bay's contract is a big red flag. They may lose Nick Swisher in free agency this winter, but it is highly unlikely that the Yankees will commit to two guaranteed years and a third virtually-guaranteed year of Bay. Even if they don't have any internal options to fill the potential void left by Swisher, there are plenty of cheaper players hitting free agency this year who could produce just as well as Bay at a much lower cost. With Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson firmly in their outfield and a lineup that's already outstanding, the Yankees are not desperate for a player like Bay.
As for the Mets, A.J. Burnett turns 35 years old on January 3, 2012, and his performance over the past three seasons has been roughly equivalent to that of Mike Pelfrey. Burnett strikes out more batters than Pelfrey, but he walks significantly more, too. His high-water marks in strikeouts per nine innings came in 2007 and 2008 while he was with the Blue Jays, but they dropped upon his arrival in the Bronx and aren't very good now. That probably has something to do with the fact that his average fastball in 2011 has been 1.7 mph slower than it was in 2008, according to PitchFx.
On top of those troubling trends, Burnett has always been a pitcher whose performance never lived up to his peripherals. Burnett's career 4.10 ERA is worse than his 4.00 FIP and 3.79 xFIP. Even in the best case scenario in which Citi Field and the National League boost his performance, he's probably not getting much better than he is now.
Each team is better off holding on to the under-performing player it already has. For the Mets, there's a better chance the Bay returns to something resembling his slugging self from his years with the Red Sox and Pirates than there is of Burnett turning into anything better than a back-of-the-rotation starter. If Bay shows any signs of life, perhaps the Mets will be able to get out from under his contract like they did this year with Francisco Rodriguez. If not, they'll have to deal with the vesting option on their own during the 2012 season, but that still sounds better than having an even older A.J. Burnett in decline.