MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Attention on A-Rod after Bay's buyout

Justice: Attention on A-Rod after Bay's buyout

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Give the Mets credit for having the guts to turn the page on Jason Bay.

In three seasons, Bay batted .234 and averaged nine home runs. He missed 198 games and recently celebrated his 34th birthday.

Even though the Mets love the guy personally and respect his desire and work ethic, they'd reached the point where they did not think it would be wise to count on him being productive.

Still, they owed Bay $21 million of the original four-year, $66 million deal he signed before the 2010 season. If they'd stuck to the usual choices, they would have buried him at the end of the bench or continued to hope against hope he'd somehow resurrect his career.

Instead, the Mets moved aggressively to make the best of a difficult situation. Rather than simply releasing Bay, they bought themselves some payroll flexibility by negotiating a payout of the $21 million.

If Bay's situation reminds you of another New York baseball player with a big salary and declining production, you're probably not alone. Before you even ask the question, the Yankees insist they're hoping Alex Rodriguez still has some productive baseball left in him.

"As long as he can stay healthy," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Wednesday at the General Managers Meetings at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells.

At the very least, the Yankees appear to be a long, long way from reaching any kind of crossroads in which they even consider eating the remaining $119 million on Rodriguez's contract.

Some general managers expressed surprise at the amount of money the Mets were prepared to eat. None could comprehend wrestling with a $119 million payoff. So the Yankees say they're going to stay the course with Rodriguez.

"You see guys that go through spikes of performance," Cashman said. "What took place there this year -- especially against right-handed pitching, which gradually got worse -- I see a lot of examples around the game of some tremendously consistent players that all of a sudden have a down year or performance suffers in a particular area and then they come back. They bounce back and regroup, and whatever you want to call it. As long as he stays healthy, there's no reason for him not to be productive."

Rodriguez's OPS has declined for five straight seasons, and he's coming off a postseason in which he batted .120 and was benched. He's also 37 years old.

Rodriguez seemed poised for a comeback season in 2012 after a tough winter of rehab and treatment. He seemed confident, too, when he showed up at Spring Training and spoke of how much better his body felt than in previous years.

He couldn't turn that confidence into production, finishing 16th among Major League third basemen in home runs (18) and 11th in batting average (.272). Because he was baseball's highest-paid player at $30 million, those numbers were glaring.

Rodriguez has so much money left on his contract that he probably couldn't be traded unless the Yankees were willing to eat a large chunk of the money. In addition, Rodriguez would have to approve any trade.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had a postseason chat with Rodriguez to make sure there were no hard feelings over the playoff benching. Everything else is on Rodriguez.

Cashman said he has seen how hard Rodriguez works and knows how much pride he takes in his game. He has no idea what Rodriguez still has in the tank, but he sounds like he's a long way from giving up on him.

"Alex Rodriguez is always competitive, fiery," Cashman said. "He doesn't want to be just good. He wants to be the best of all-time. No one works harder than he does. No one cares as much as he does. He's right there if you're grading out all those types of things. He's at the highest of the charts on all those categories. So his intent and interest is to be the best every day he takes the field."

There are other cases. The Angels owe Vernon Wells $42 million over the next two seasons even though he has batted .222 in two seasons and isn't being counted on to play regularly in 2013.

But the Angels seem likely to bring Wells back as a fourth outfielder if nothing develops in the offseason trade market. His salary might take up payroll room they'd rather spend to re-sign Torii Hunter.

Even though the Angels have spent freely in recent years, they don't seem prepared to eat that kind of money. They're still hoping for a different kind of resolution, perhaps a trade or a resurrection of his career. That's what the Yankees are hoping, too. For now.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.