When former Mets general manager Omar Minaya began his 2009-2010 offseason, he realized that one of his biggest and most pressing needs was a dependable left fielder. In 2009, Daniel Murphy started the year in left field, but quickly became a defensive liability and was moved back to the infield for good.
Soon enough, the injuries began to pile up and the Mets ended up having nine different players in left field during that season, with Jeremy Reed's 50 appearances being the most of anyone.
This, along with the Mets' 72-90 record in 2009, was not the way the Mets wanted to begin their Citi Field era, which opened that season. Thus, Minaya pulled out his checkbook and signed one of the best outfielders on the free agent market—Jason Bay.
Minaya was looking to sign either Bay or Matt Holliday, but Holliday ended up signing a seven-year contract with the Cardinals. As a result, Minaya signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million deal. The Red Sox, whom Bay played with it in late 2008 and all of 2009 were bidding to re-sign him, but were ultimately not willing to give Bay a fourth year. That was why he signed with the Mets.
At the time, the Mets were hoping a get a big power bat in left field to provide more protection for David Wright and, later, Carlos Beltran. However, while Wright had a bounce-back year and hit 29 home runs, Bay simply never got it going in 2010.
Despite always playing hard defensively with his best effort at all times—as evidenced by the season-ending concussion he suffered in Los Angeles on July 23 of that year—Bay simply underachieved and quickly got booed by the Mets' faithful.
Bay finished his 2010 season with a .259 average, six home runs and 47 RBI. His .749 OPS that year was almost 200 points below his 2009 OPS (.921).
In 2011, Bay and the Mets were hoping for a better year. While Bay did happen to double his home run total that year to 12, not much else had particularly improved. His batting average fell to .245 and his 57 RBI was not the increase he and the Mets were hoping for. Furthermore, his OPS fell even more to a career worst .703.
Should the Mets eat Bay's salary and release him next year?
Going into the 2012 season, Bay and the Mets kept hoping for some kind of turnaround season this year. Unfortunately for Bay, he suffered a rib injury against the Giants in April, which led to a trip to the disabled list on April 24. He spent time rehabilitating until getting activated on June 6.
However, just 10 days later, Bay suffered his second concussion on June 16 against the Reds and had to be removed from the game. He then got placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list. On July 18, he got reinstated and is now playing left field, for the most part.
Despite his limited at-bats this year, Bay is batting just .159 with five home runs and eight RBI. His .548 OPS is enough of a sign that he hasn't improved as a Met.
At times this year, Bay has surprised everyone with a big home run and everyone would hope that it could be the start of something good. However, Bay has either gotten hurt or relapsed into another long slump.
Not only is Bay hurting the Mets by being in the lineup, he's also limiting the chances of other more deserving outfielders from starting in his place—despite his large salary. Jordany Valdespin has been having a much better year than Bay and should be at least platooning with Bay, if not starting every day.
The return of Mike Baxter could mean even less time for Bay to play every day. Now that Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are both in the minor leagues, the Mets will have a significantly different look in their outfield.
Andres Torres, despite his streaky season, will be the everyday center fielder, while Baxter and Valdespin could start in left field and right field most days against right-handed pitching. Scott Hairston will start whenever a left-handed pitcher is on the mound and Bay could very well get platooned in the same way—or be sent to the bench altogether. All in all, if Bay is going to play, it will likely occur against mostly left-handed pitching.
Benching highly paid players who underachieve would not be something new for the Mets. In 2010, former manager Jerry Manuel barely used Oliver Perez and only put him into games during mop-up situations. He also benched aging second baseman Luis Castillo during most of the second half of the season.
The Mets' front office can only have so much patience left in Bay now after the disastrous results he has brought since 2010 as one of the franchise's worst free agent signings ever. With one year left to go in his overpriced contract in 2013, the Mets could choose to release Bay altogether and eat his remaining salary, just like they released Perez and Castillo during spring training in 2011.
Going into next season, Duda and Nieuwenhuis figure to be the starting right fielder and the starting center fielder, respectively. This, of course, is assuming that neither gets traded in the offseason.
Left field could be up for grabs between Bay, Valdespin, Baxter and possibly a current outfield prospect. Center fielder Matt den Dekker could very well start the 2013 season on the major league roster, with Cesar Puello being another consideration.
Bay has not shown that he is capable of being a productive outfielder, and his hustle and great defensive efforts only go so far. At the end of the day, the Mets need offensive production from him. He has not been productive by any means since his Mets debut in 2010.
He is limiting the opportunities of younger players who should be starting in his place as they develop into core pieces of the future. In other words, Bay's presence is having a negative impact on the Mets' future and it's time for him to get at least platooned—if not benched.
General manager Sandy Alderson's plan all along was to have the Mets become serious World Series contenders by 2013, or 2014 at the latest. This season was always meant to be a rebuilding year, although the Mets have currently played better than expected. Being that this is a rebuilding season, it would make perfect sense for the Mets to play some of their younger talent over a declining veteran such as Bay.
Hopefully Alderson and manager Terry Collins will do the right thing soon and put Bay on the bench where he deserves to be. If another team is looking to acquire him and not take on much—if not any—of his salary, the Mets should definitely pull the trigger because it's becoming more obvious by the day that Bay has simply never been a good fit for New York baseball.
Jason, sorry that your time with the Mets has not worked out but, honestly, it's time to move on.