It would be nearly impossible to properly quantify how awful Jason Bay has been, but I think the best way is to compare his .279 slugging percentage to the four full seasons the Mets received from Doug Flynn: .289, .317, .312, .292.
I talk about it in my book, Taking the Field: Flynn was not simply a light-hitting middle infielder. He was easily the worst light-hitting middle infielder during a time when there were plenty of light-hitting middle infielders, and offense was down significantly compared to 2011. But Flynn, at least, was a strong defensive second baseman.
Jason Bay is a mediocre defensive left fielder, in a better offensive context. And he’s slugging worse than Flynn ever did.
So then, why the blog post title?
Because playing Jason Bay is critical to the future of the New York Mets. Getting him at-bats is perhaps the most important thing the Mets can do for their future right now.
Here’s the reality: the Mets owe Jason Bay $16 million in 2012. They owe Bay $16 million in 2013. They owe him a $3 million buyout in 2014, unless his option vests. But playing like this, it won’t (Mets won’t give him 500 plate appearances in 2012 and 2013 to play LF and hit like Doug Flynn).
So the Mets are stuck paying a huge portion of their future payroll to Bay. And to Bay’s credit, he isn’t shying away from criticism, he hasn’t stopped working hard. He just cannot hit the way he did. His career slugging percentage is .500!
Bench him for, say, Lucas Duda, and the short-term gain would be significant. Duda is a good bet to easily outproduce Bay. But it doesn’t make the problem of paying Bay go anywhere.
By contrast, getting Bay every opportunity to right himself provides several positive upsides. A Bay who is hitting- and remember, he is just 32, so the notion isn’t so crazy that he’s got more hitting in him, odd as that sounds if you’ve been watching him- could patrol left field for the next several years, sparing the Mets the cost in payroll or prospects of adding another left fielder. Duda can become part of the post-Carlos Beltran solution in right field, or dealt for a pitcher, etc.
Best case scenario, of course, is Bay hits well enough to justify a deal. Chances are slim that someone will take on his whole salary, but even a renaissance from Bay over the remainder of 2011 could lead to partial salary relief. With Bay due $35 million minimum from 2012 on, even partial relief would be a huge help to the Mets. It’ll be on a sliding scale, naturally- but if Bay approaches anything like his 2009 Boston self over the last 100 games of the season, it is far from impossible to imagine.
The most frustrating part of Bay is that, for all the warning signs about his deal- age, etc.-no one had any reason to think he’d go from slugging .537 in 2009 to essentially half that in 2011.
But Mets fans ought to be rooting for Bay to improve the same way they would, say, a Ruben Tejada or another young player up from the minors. The reasoning is the same; improvement from Bay will go a long way toward providing for a brighter Mets future. That the future rests so much on a 32-year-old left fielder is both a lesson in the perils of long-term contracts for non-elite players, and another reminder of the peculiar state of the franchise in 2011.