The ‘L’ word is contentious issue among Blue Jay fans. Blue Jay first baseman, Lyle Overbay, was a player highly scrutinized in Toronto well before this season. Now, Overbay is off to a horrid start hitting .127 AVG, with 0 HR’s and only 4 RBI’s. If you go to some of the daily Blue Jay blogs you will find an ‘all out war’ going on between fans with different opinions on Overbay‘s value. Who knew baseball could resemble war? Seems like the furthest thing from war to me? For Jay fans, Lyle Overbay is the Gaza Strip.
In short, the debate stems from Overbay’s ability to play great defense and contribute an above average .OBP (on base percentage) – stats that go relatively unnoticed by casual fans that put high expectations on a first basemen in the catergories of HRs, RBIs and AVG. Overbay’s contribution, or lack there of, is the main dispute. Many Jays fan want him out of the lineup, where some believe him to be a key contributor getting on base and playing stellar defense.
I can’t think of a Blue Jay that has been more disputed, criticized and argued more than Lyle Overbay. If you listen to local sports talk radio after Jay games, you will hear a guy named Mike Wilner defend Lyle Overbay on a religious basis. The day Overbay moves on, Wilner will likely feel an empty void in his life. He has preached the Gospel of Overbay for so many years that Lyle must possess some kind of omnipotence in his mind. I enjoy Wilner on the radio, so I hope he doesn’t have a nervous breakdown when Overbay is gone.
Any baseball player, as we learned from the book/movie in pre-production starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill ‘Moneyball,’ players can be seen as financial commodities. With Overbay it has been hard to tell if we were in the black or the red? It is hard to compare him to other first basemen because he not like the others. Overbay begun his contract with the Jays in fine fashion, but is now ending it in with a less-than-mediocre performance. Are the Jays in the black or the red with Overbay? Answer that question, but be prepared for war!
In all likelihood, Lyle looks take a pay cut upon receiving a new
free agent contract. Making 7.95 million for the 2010 season, Overbay
has not lived up to the high expectations placed upon following the
first year of his contract in 2006. For that year, Overbay hit for a
.312 average, had 22 homeruns, drove in close to 100 RBI’s, had .OBP of
.372 and knocked his signature 46 doubles. However, for the next 3
years of his current 5-year-contract, Overbay’s homerun numbers dipped
into the teens, his RBI’s fell into the 60’s and those signature
doubles became merely average falling to the low-to-mid 30’s.
When Overbay was with Milwaukee, there was a year he hit an
astonishing 56 doubles in a season. This season led to a lucrative
contract with the Blue Jays; however, throughout the course of that
contract it became apparent those days were over.
Considering the numbers previously mentioned for past three years.
One wonders how Overbay was even able to survive at first base for the
in the A.L. East? He plays in a division where Mark Teixeira, Jason
Giambi, Kevin Youkilus, David Ortiz, Carlos Pena and Aubrey Huff have
consistently put up ‘bigtime’ production numbers at the first base
position for their respective teams.
In the past three years Overbay’s production has dropped off. This is
usually an alarming fact for a first baseman. However, it is not as
grim as those numbers may suggest. Overbay is consistent contributor
defensively at first base. He is one of the best. Also, throughout
those years Overbay has maintained the same high .OBP (On Base
Percentage) that he had in his ‘breakthrough’ years. More and more,
teams are desiring players with high .OBPs. So, Overbay’s value has not completely
fallen off the map. I’d say that his value on the open market would be 2-3
million per year and only he’d get, at most, 3 years. Good, but a great
decline from the 7.95 million that he will make in 2010.
Overbay will be an intriguing player to look at during this upcoming
free agency because he is unique from other first basemen. How many
first basemen do you see that are purely solid .OBP guys? Don’t you
have be able to ‘mash’ to play first base? Does any team really want a
first baseman that is just good at getting on base and playing defense?
It seems that Lyle Overbay will not be in the Blue Jays plans for
2011. The Jays have traded for top first base prospect, Brett Wallace,
and they will likely work him into the position – possibly as early as
this season. The Jays have also been incrementally reducing payroll
while allotting most of their assets into scouting and player
The Possible Frontrunners
Having a high .OBP, and contributing on defense, Overbay would ideally
fit into Oakland General Manager Billy Beane’s ‘Moneyball’ philosophy.
Taking a sharp pay cut, Beane might want to exploit Overbay before he
passes the age of 35. At which point, Beane would hope that Overbay
increases his trade-market value for available prospects. Too many
obstacles abound in considering Overbay being signed by Oakland,
though. Top prospect Chris C. Carter might need to be held in the
minors a bit longer and Oakland’s experiment with AAA ‘mashers’ Jake Fox and Daric Barton
will need to fail. I’d only consider the A’s a secondary option for
Overbay in consideration of these factors.
Considering where a free agent might sign it is necessary to look at
primarily look at two things in terms of ‘team needs.’ One, what free
agents will the team possibly lose? And what players might be coming up
through the team’s system? The Tampa Bay Rays will face a dilemma with
both Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena‘s contracts coming up for renewal in
2011. If Tampa commits to signing Crawford for ‘big money,’ then Pena
will likely be out on the market. The Rays currently have an
interesting 19-year-old first baseman in there system, 5th round-pick
Jeff Malm, but he would be at least 3 years away from the major
leagues. Overbay would be an effective, cheap and solid ‘stopgap’
option for Rays that can add depth and defense. Being a small-market
team, I can see the going after Overbay, especially if the Rays choose
to commit to Crawford instead of Pena.
The Mets are team in need of first base help. They have a converted
outfielder playing the position now, and their system does not look
bright in the area of first basemen. If Daniel Murphy and prospect Ike
Davis do not contribute effectively, the Mets will need help. Overbay
would fill a void for them, and with the amount money they’ve spent
recently on Bay, Perez, K-Rod and Santana they might go with him as an
affordable option if they are not in sweepstakes to acquire a player
like Carlos Pena.
Mariners (my pick!)
Lyle Overbay is a product of the State of Washington. In the past, he
has been rumoured to be headed back to his home state via a trade to
the Mariners. He has been quoted, saying that he would like to play
there. With Ken Griffey Jr. edging on retirement, the M’s might want to
move first baseman Casey Kochman over to DH for 2011, making room for
top 1B/OF prospect Dustin Ackley (depending on his progression), or a
‘stopgap’ option like free agent Lyle Overbay to fill in until Ackley
is ready. Having first base solidified on an exciting M’s team might be
desirable? The chance of Overbay playing for the M’s improves even
greater if Kotchman shows the same downturn in his statistics from last
season. Overbay could be considered in a deadline trade to the
‘predictably contending Mariners’ if Kochman’s stats continue to
decline. The Jays will likely be in the cellar of the A.L. East again,
and they will be looking for prospects to keep building their team. A
deadline trade to the M’s makes the signing of Overbay even more
likely. In any case, they will be at least rumored in
signing Overbay next offseason, in my opinion.