9:10 am Jun. 7, 2012
Jason Bay, the good-natured left fielder who has done nothing but make friends off the field and disappoint his team on it since arriving for the 2010 season with the New York Mets, returned from his latest injury on Wednesday night, but sat on the bench.
This may seem odd. When teams have signed players to massive contracts, and Bay's four-year, $66 million deal certainly qualifies, those players are usually inserted into the lineup the moment they return.
Bay, however, simply hasn't played like the power-hitting left fielder that led the Mets to pay that massive sum of money to get him. His power seemingly disappeared the moment he got to New York, and he hit a total of 18 home runs over his first two seasons. He'd hit 36 in his final season with the Red Sox back in 2009.
The necessity of bringing Bay back was further undermined by the strong recent play of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Andres Torres, both of whom are better defensive outfielders than Bay.
Naturally, Bay's absence was explained by a cold he'd been fighting. (Point of reference, David Wright is playing through a broken finger.) For a player who had missed so much time in the lineup, his teammates hadn't turned on him the way the Yankees had Carl Pavano. He missed much of the 2010 season with a concussion he sustained barreling into the Dodger Stadium wall after a fly ball, and was on the disabled list this season after hurting his ribs diving for another ball. No one doubts Bay's best efforts. And no one has any idea why his skills have completely betrayed him.
Still, he's had no shortage of opportunities to return to form. That's part of the advantage of signing a massive, long-term contract--the flip side of the large expectations is that you've got more time to fulfill them.
Bay may be out of time now. It once made sense to give Bay all the space he needed, since he was signed for so long. Bay is now in the third year of his contract, and his four-year deal contains a fifth-year option that vests based on playing time. Either 500 plate appearances in 2012 and 2013 each, or 600 in 2013 alone, will trigger a 2014 contract at $17 million.
Even if the Mets were financially healthy, that would be a poison pill for any roster at Bay's rate of production. Since 2010, 13 left fielders have played at least 200 games. Only Brett Gardner, Jose Tabata and Juan Pierre have a lower O.P.S.+ than Bay among them. Gardner, though, brings an elite glove to the position. Tabata was a big-time prospect. And Pierre has his speed. For Bay, the offensive production was the whole package. And it has been missing.
The Mets begin interleague play on Friday against the Yankees, so the Mets can fit Bay, Torres and Nieuwenhuis in the lineup at once. When they return to the correct, National League rules, Ike Davis could be sent down to Triple-A--he's been hitting so poorly, Bay's Mets production would be a tremendous upgrade in the lineup. Lucas Duda would shift to first base, and Bay, Nieuwenhuis and Torres would become the outfield.
If Davis shows any signs of hitting, however, expect the Mets to embrace his return to the lineup. He's young, inexpensive, and under team control. So they should embrace his return to form.
That gives Bay an undetermined, but potentially short window left to give New York any value on the contract he signed with them. (Davis reached base three times on Wednesday night, so that time could be very short.)
And how likely do the Mets seem to think such a Bay renaissance is? Well, first chance they got to see him again, he sat on the bench. How's that for confidence?
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Ivan Nova dominated the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-1 New York win. The Yankees are just a half-game behind the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East, and a half-game ahead of the Rays. They also expressed pleasure with their draft picks, as teams do.
Tom Coughlin received a three-year, $20 million contract extension, but his expression probably didn't change.
The Nets should know pretty quickly if they'll get to open the Barclay Center with a Dwight Howard-Deron Williams combo, or instead, Yinka Dare Bobblehead Night. July 11 is a key date.