When Jason Bay finished up 2010 on the DL with his worst numbers in years, many were quick to attribute it to the concussion or first year jitters like Carlos Beltran suffered from. Instead, New York’s beleaguered left fielder has followed up with a second poor year.

Before Tuesday’s game against St. Louis, Bay was hitting just .233 for the Mets. His 6 home runs highlight a dismal .322 slugging percentage. He’s even stolen more bases – 9 – than hit home runs.

There was a stretch from late June through July 5 where he hit a couple dingers, include a two-home run performance against the Dodgers on the last day, but he’s had all of four hits in 43 at bats plus six walks since then.

His defense has been fine, even above average at times, but why pay someone $16 million to be a good defensive corner outfielder?

Terry Collins has insisted throughout the season that he won’t veer away from Bay, giving him plenty of chances to find the stroke that made him an all-star in Boston and Pittsburgh – or even come close to the six consecutive seasons of 21+ home runs he sported until signing with New York in 2010. That probably won’t change much in 2011, unless the Mets clearly fall out of the wild card hunt and give younger players more at-bats, but we can dream, can’t we?

For the sake of this argument, lets assume the Wilpons aren’t embroiled in a financial quagmire and Jason Bay could be dumped, traded or sat in favor of a new player. If the team wanted to make a mid-season move for a new left fielder, the rumored trade market is pretty sparse. Kansas City’s Melky Cabrera his smoking the ball these days, but he’s never hit for such a high average or on base plus slugging in his seven years as a pro-ball player. He also came into camp overweight with Atlanta last season and looked average at best during the season. It’s a fair bet the Royals hang onto him as he enters arbitration next year making just $1.25 million. Looking into the off-season, the market isn’t much better. The selection of left fielders is primarily a combination of old and ineffective, see Matt Stairs, Connor Jackson and Laynce Nix. Juan Rivera is a possibility, especially as a guy who’s shown the ability to hit for power and a decent average. Josh Willingham is also a free agent and putting up solid power numbers in 2011, perhaps at the cost of his overall slash line.

Should the Wilpons decide just to sit him in favor of a bench player, Collins does has a few options, although none are very impressive.

Fifth outfielder Jason Pridie is an interesting case. A high draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2002, he failed to materialize as a star. But when Mets center fielder Angel Pagan went down for more than a month in April and May, Pridie excelled defensively at Citi Field and picked up a few hits too. He yielded the position to Pagan with a .239 average, although he spent 18 of his 30 games with an average of .240 or better. He lacks power – just one home run and 5 doubles in 125 at-bats – but he fairs better at the plate as a starter than a pinch hitter. He now sports a .228 average and .366 slugging percentage as a starter in 28 games as opposed to a .208 average and .296 slugging percentage as a pinch-hitter in 29 games. Neither is anything to boast about and the .300/.349/.600/.949 slash line he posted on May 7 is obviously a fluke, although he did post a .275 career average through 10 minor league seasons. Defensively, Pridie is a good center fielder who can spot the corner outfields in a pinch. Unfortunately, he accumulated just 22 innings in the field with Minnesota before seeing 278 innings this season, so there’s little to compare against.

Utilityman Willie Harris is another possibility. Harris was the scapegoat for the Mets during much of the first half, and rightly so. He struggled at the plate, often sporting a batting average in the .220’s or below. He’s heated up lately, driving that average up to .265, and that’s likely to fall again. In addition to being a career .241 hitter, he’s putting up that current average with a BABIP of .378. His numbers will come plummeting back to Earth soon. He’s never offered much power, even in the two seasons where he hit double-digit home runs. And as a defender, he’s better in left field and second base than center field, although the range factor stat suggests he’s merely league average at both of those positions. Harris is making $800,000 this year

Back-up outfielder Scott Hairston could also be considered. Hairston was another easy target for Met fans early in 2011; he failed to show his promised power with just one home run during the first three months and hit just .167 in March and April. His numbers are slowly growing as the season continues – a .269 average in June, a .385 average in July and 2 home runs in each. And unlike Harris, his season BABIP is a more realistic .306, suggesting his batting average could stay respectable while crushing the occasional homer. While his career .246 batting average is sobering, Hairston has five seasons of double-digit home runs and usually collects a fair number of doubles. Defensively, statistics consider Hairston an average at-best left fielder, and likely a sub-par fielder. He is capable of playing of all three outfield positions and second base, but the range factor stat suggests he doesn’t stand out in any of them. In fact, his fielding percentage for each save for right field – he’s only played 69.2 innings there, is below .990. Hairston is earning $1.1 million this year.

Both Nick Evans and Lucas Duda have played left field, although neither appears ready for an extended stay in the majors. Evans is hitting .154 with one home run in 36 ML at-bats this year, while sporting a below-average career range factor in left field. Duda, known to have confidence issues, has no home runs and a .250 batting average in 108 at-bats this season to go along with a substantially below league-average range factor for his career. Neither should be considered anything more than a fifth outfielder or backup first baseman until they prove otherwise, and should not be considered in this argument.

When push comes to shove, New York doesn’t have many in-house options to fill left field. Even the minor leagues don’t offer much immediate help for left field. Buffalo Bisons’ backup outfielder Jesus Feliciano – now starting for injured center fielder Kirk Nieuwenheis – is an option but his .231 average in 108 at-bats last year for New York is even worse than Bay. Unless General Manager Sandy Alderson can find a creative way to dump Bay, free up money and/or find a sucker to trade a quality left fielder, New York’s best option is probably to stick with Bay and a serviceable backup – Hairston at this point – until 2011 comes to a close.

2 comments on “No quick fix for Jason Bay’s struggles

  • pal88

    Sorry tosay BAY IS DONE….bench him

  • Metsense

    As bad as Bay has been, there is no body to replace him. Hairston and Harris are bench players and just would be exposed and no upgrade to Bay. (see April 2011) Duda and Pridie have been given an opportunity to play and show no upgrade. Evans has not been given much of a chance but also hasn’t done much with the little opportunity given. Captain Kirk is injured, and F-Mart needs to show something better at AAA and also stay healthy. Nobody on the bench, nobody in the minors so you might as well stay with the veteran. Kind of scares me if they trade Beltran especially with the sub par year Pagan is having.

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